Kelly Garcia, acting director of the state Department of Public Health Director, speaks at an April 15, 2020, news conference in Johnston. She said Thursday the state is “reinvigorating” its push to get residents vaccinated against COVID-19. (Brian Powers/Des Moines Register via AP)
DES MOINES — Concerned about spiking COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Iowa and other states, the state’s public health leader Thursday called for a “reinvigorated” push to get more Iowans vaccinated against the virus that threatens school children, the vulnerable, elderly and unvaccinated.
“We need folks to get vaccinated,” Kelly Garcia, acting director of the state Department of Public Health and leader of the state Department of Human Services, told member of the Iowa Council on Human Services on Thursday.
“Our vaccination rate in the state is higher than many of our southern partner states,” she said. “We need to continue to make progress on that. That is the key. It is the answer. It is sitting right in front of us.”
Garcia’s comments came one day after state officials reported Iowa added an average of almost 700 new COVID-19 cases per day over the past week — the highest average recorded since February.
The number of Iowans hospitalized with COVID-related illnesses stood at 355 this week, the highest since 360 on Feb. 4. Of those hospitalized, 103 were in intensive care units and 49 needed the aid of ventilators to breathe, according to the latest weekly figures issued by the state.
Since the coronavirus was first detected in Iowa in March 2020, 387,273 residents have tested positive for the disease and 6,210 have died from COVID-19.
Iowa just passed 1.5 million inoculations, with 56 percent of the state’s population age 12 and older fully vaccinated, the state’s public health agency reported.
But more must be done, Garcia said.
Public health officials, she said, “are aggressively working on a reinvigoration of our campaign at the state level and working on a more grassroots effort here to make sure that folks step forward into this space.”
The public health leader called on council members, faith leaders, community leaders and average Iowans “to have bold and brave and courageous conversations with those who are hesitant” to take steps to protect themselves and others from potentially dangerous virus strains.
“I know it’s controversial,” she said. “I’m experiencing that, too.
“But, if nothing else, my kids are going to go back to school in a week, right? And I need them to be safe. We are adults. We can get vaccinated. They can’t right now. They’re too little. I need us to step forward and do the right thing,” she added.
“It’s going to take a lot of work, and we can do it together.”
Garcia told Thursday’s council meeting the nation is experiencing a fourth coronavirus wave of “really incredible widespread cases” that is straining hospital systems in states south of Iowa — which has caught the attention of Iowa officials who are monitoring case data daily.
“We are not experiencing the case counts that our southern states are,” she said, “but we are seeing an increase, and we are seeing an increase in hospitalizations.”
Garcia said the current strain on Iowa’s hospital system is due more to workforce issues than spiking COVID-19 cases, but she added “the key to this is making sure that we pay attention to our hospital capacity and that we push on people getting vaccinations.”
After a drop in activity following the vaccine rollout, the pandemic is beginning to reemerge in force nationwide as the new highly transmissible delta variant of the coronavirus spreads, especially among unvaccinated individuals.
As of Monday, all but eight counties in Iowa had a “high” or “substantial” level of community transmission of the virus, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Thursday marked the start of the 11-day Iowa State Fair, which was expected to bring more than 1 million visitors to the fairgrounds in Des Moines. The event was canceled last year due to COVID-19 concerns.
While the fair was in full swing, officials with the South Central Iowa Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, said their members decided not to have a traditional Labor Day Parade on Sept. 6.
“The delegates discussed their concerns for the safety of the participants and the many folks that gather to watch the parade,” it said in a statement. “With the uncertainty of the virus and the now continued upward direction of infections and hospitalizations, and for an abundance of caution, we will not be celebrating Labor Day 2021 with a parade.”
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