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President Biden unveils plan to help hospitals and increase testing; Gov. Reynolds wants Supreme Court to block federal vaccinate mandate


Jordan Sellergren/Little Village

The Iowa Department of Public Health said another 10,381 cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed in the state during the most recent seven-day reporting period in its weekly update on Wednesday. The department also disclosed another 119 deaths from the virus.

Those newly reported deaths brought Iowa’s official COVID-19 death toll to 7,799.

For the first time in over a month, the number of Iowans reported hospitalized with virus in the weekly update did not set a new record for 2021. According to IDPH, there are 747 hospitalized COVID-19 patients, including 158 in intensive care units. The department said 81.5 percent of the hospitalized were unvaccinated.

Although the 747 Iowans hospitalized did not set another record, it was still the third-highest weekly total for hospitalized COVID-19 patients this year.

The strain caused by the current surge in COVID patients led to two Cedar Rapids hospitals to announce last week they were postponing all elective and non-urgent surgical procedures until after Christmas.

“We are on our fourth wave of COVID-19,” Mercy Medical Center and UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s Hospital said in the joint statement last Thursday. “Our health care teams have been on the front lines fighting this virus for nearly two years. They are physically and mentally exhausted.”

A new effort to address the strain on hospitals around the country was one of the measures in a new COVID-19 plan President Biden laid out in a televised speech on Tuesday.

The Biden administration plans to deploy as many as 1,000 military medical professionals to assist overwhelmed hospitals in COVID-19 hotspots around the country during January and February. The president said he would continue to use the Defense Production Act to accelerate the manufacture of COVID-19 tests. The administration plans to buy 500 million at-home test kits and make them available for the public to order online. Like the military support for hospitals, the at-home test site will not launch until January. (Free at-home test kits are available already in Johnson and Linn counties.)

In a separate decision announced on Wednesday, the president extended the moratorium on student loan payments until May 1. The payment pause had been scheduled to expire on Feb. 1, but the White House pointed to the ongoing disruption caused by COVID-19 as the reason a further extension was needed.

In his speech on Tuesday, Biden stressed again the importance of vaccinations, including booster shots, in combating COVID-19, and said that FEMA will be setting up pop-up vaccination clinics at various sites around the country, in areas of high demand. The president also spoke out in favor of the OSHA requirement that all businesses with 100 or more employees either have their employees provide proof of vaccination or be tested weekly for the virus.

On Friday, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Ohio overturned a stay blocking the OSHA mandate from going into effect. That stay was issued in a lawsuit seeking to strike down OSHA’s vaccinate-or-test requirement. Iowa is one of the parties suing OSHA.

“The record establishes that Covid-19 has continued to spread, mutate, kill and block the safe return of American workers to their jobs,” Judge Jane Stranch wrote in her decision. “To protect workers, OSHA can and must be able to respond to dangers as they evolve.”

Following the ruling, Gov. Reynolds issued a written statement denouncing the Sixth Circuit decision.

We are in the height of a workforce shortage and supply chain crisis, and I have no doubt these issues are only going to be compounded by this poor decision.

The state has immediately asked the Supreme Court to stop this mandate.

I will not stop fighting for Iowans and their personal freedoms and individual liberties.

According to the most recent data from IDPH, 55.5 percent of all Iowans are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The department does not publish data on booster shots.


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