116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
DES MOINES — Gov. Kim Reynolds’ update Thursday to Iowans on the worsening COVID-19 pandemic included more calls for people to get vaccinated — but no new policy changes, and she defended a state law that prevents schools from requiring students to wear face masks even as cases among children are now surging.
“It’s obvious that vaccines are our best tool against countering COVID-19,” Reynolds said during a news conference at the Iowa Capitol. “So we want to reiterate to Iowans to get the information that you need, to research, (and) get a vaccine. It’s the best thing that you can do to protect yourself and your loved ones. We see that the data we’re collecting actually proves that out.”
After months of decline following the winter spike, COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are once again rising in Iowa and many other areas of the country. Both measures are higher than they have been since January, which was the tail end of the pandemic’s worst and deadliest stretch so far.
Iowa is averaging nearly 1,500 new COVID-19 cases per day — 15 times the rate just two months ago. And 524 people are being treated for COVID-19 in Iowa hospitals, more than seven times as many as just two months ago.
Two main factors are driving this latest surge: the delta variant, which spreads faster than the virus’ original strain; and the number of Iowans who have not been vaccinated. The delta variant is accounting for 99 percent of all new cases, Reynolds said.
With the availability of free vaccines, “the rise we’re currently experiencing isn’t cause for panic. Far from it,” the governor asserted. “But it is a good reason to consider what you can do to help.”
And what Iowans can do most to help, Reynolds said, is to get the vaccine.
According to state data, four out of every five current COVID-19 patients in the hospital are unvaccinated, as are nine out of 10 COVID-19 patients in intensive care.
Nearly 64 percent of Iowans ages 18 and older are fully vaccinated, and 66.4 percent of Iowans ages 12 and older — those who are eligible to get the vaccines — have received at least one shot, according to state data.
“The data reflects, as you’ve heard for months now, that COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective at preventing serious illness, hospitalizations and deaths, which ensures that more beds are available for other purposes,” Reynolds said.
But aside from continuing her call for Iowans to get vaccinated, Reynolds on Thursday announced no new policy changes for mitigation strategies. She said the virus likely is here to stay and that the pandemic will become an endemic, one that must be constantly managed in “a responsible and balanced way.”
Reynolds, a Republican, defended a state law — which she approved in May after it was passed by Republicans in the Iowa Legislature — that prohibits schools from requiring students or staff to wear face masks.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends all school staff and students wear face masks. On Monday, the U.S. Education Department announced it’s investigating Iowa and four other states with prohibitions on mask mandates on grounds the bans discriminate against students with health conditions and disabilities.
Most Iowa school districts started the 2021-2022 school year the week of Aug. 23.
“I believe the government’s role in a public health crisis is to provide the public reliable information so that they can make their own informed decisions,” Reynolds said. “I also believe this approach is more effective than mandates that attempt to dictate other people's behavior.”
As the virus was first beginning to spread in Iowa, Reynolds issued an emergency order April 17, 2020, closing schools for the remainder of that academic year. At the time she issued that order, the seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases was 135 a day. As Reynolds held her news conference Thursday, that average had swelled to 1,187 new cases a day — more than eight times higher. At the time, Iowa hospitals were treating 183 COVID-19 patients. Thursday, it was nearly three times higher.
The largest share of new cases over the past week came among Iowa children under the age of 18, according to a state data. Children accounted for 22 percent of new cases, the highest of any age group and up from 13 percent just two weeks ago. Among those currently hospitalized for COVID-19 in Iowa, 5 percent are younger than 18, according to state data.
When asked by reporters, interim state public health Director Kelly Garcia said her own children wear face masks to school for family reasons.
“I’m not going to disclose our own family’s reasons as to why, but we have some reasons as to why. And I don’t want my kids to be sick. And I can’t afford them to bring that home,” said Garcia, who is vaccinated.
The state also confirmed an additional 39 COVID-19 deaths. At least 6,307 Iowans have died as a result of the disease so far.
Of the most recently confirmed deaths, three were in the 18-40 age range; five were in the 41-60 range; 23 were in the 61-80 range and eight were in the over 80 range. Three of the deaths were recorded in Linn County and one in Johnson County.
According to the CDC, 98 of Iowa’s 99 counties now are in the red zone of high virus transmission rates. Only Guthrie County is rated lower, at the second-worst “substantial” rate.
Iowa Sen. Zach Wahls, a Democrat from Coralville and leader of the Senate Democrats, issued a statement Thursday saying Reynolds and Statehouse Republicans own the most recent surge because of their inaction.
“COVID isn’t going away because Kim Reynolds and Iowa Republicans aren’t doing anything to make it go away,” Wahls said in the statement. “Our return to normal continues to be pushed further and further into the future because Republicans continue to fail to do anything to stop the spread of the delta variant.”
Garcia announced the public health department will begin updating for Iowans some COVID-19 data three times per week, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. In July, the department transitioned from updating the data multiple times a day to just once per week. A public health department official said the reduction in updates was necessary to give staff time to analyze and ensure the data's accuracy.
John McGlothlen of The Gazette contributed to this report.