116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Loosening emergency health protocols has been a positive aspect after many long months in the pandemic, but local health care providers warn that Iowans aren’t out of the woods yet.
With demand for the COVID-19 vaccine significantly slowed, one Cedar Rapids based doctor worries the community may not reach a high enough vaccination rate to prevent spread of the novel coronavirus. As a result, Iowans could still be at heightened risk of infection.
“I fear we won’t reach herd immunity,” said Dr. Cindy Hanawalt, a Cedar Rapids-based doctor. “I do have a fear of that because we have slowed down so much.”
The positivity rate in Iowa had hovered below 3 percent recently. Infection rates and hospitalization rates in Iowa also have moved in a downward trend in recent weeks, a sign that the spread of the virus may be slowing.
However, even as the pandemic appears to be moving in a positive direction, Hanawalt and other physicians with the Linn County Medical Society say they are working to warn Iowans to remain being careful. She pointed out that because the positivity rate is not zero, COVID-19 still is in the community.
“I want to go back to normal, I want to have the economy thrive, but I also want you to be alert to the fact the virus still is out there,” she said.
A provider at the UnityPoint Health Work Well occupational medicine clinic, Hanawalt recently completed a term as the president of the Linn County Medical Society.
As of last weekend, more than 41 percent of the state’s total population had been vaccinated against COVID-19, still below the herd immunity threshold that experts typically place at about 70 percent. Linn and Johnson counties’ vaccine rates are a bit higher than the state average but still are well short of the 70 percent mark.
Recent moves by federal and state officials to ease COVID-19 mitigation strategies for vaccinated individuals has been “a breath of fresh air” after the past several months. “It’s been difficult, we’ve had a lot of deaths unlike ever we’ve seen with any other viral illness in current times,” she said.
However, Hanawalt said new guidelines have also created confusion among residents about the mitigation strategies they should use. Currently, federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance says individuals can gather with others without masking and social distancing as long as everyone is fully vaccinated. But Gov. Kim Reynolds’ recent moves to ban mask mandates in schools has raised questions among patients, including when they should don a mask, Hanawalt said.
The onus falls on the public to take precautions, particularly for those who are unable to get the vaccine because of their age and health status. But individuals should get a COVID-19 vaccine if they qualify, she said.
“As a physician, I just want the politics to come out of the mix and recognize this is a public health threat,” Hanawalt said.
Hanawalt and other physicians at the Linn County Medical Society — in addition to those across the state — are still working to encourage patients to get the shot and to help sort through an overwhelming swath of information.
Oftentimes, that entails due diligence in continuing those conversations and to have teaching moments with patients willing to engage. She said individuals shouldn’t feel forced to take the vaccine, since it is a personal choice.
“No one should be forced, but we should help people understand why we still want people to do this,” Hanawalt said.
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