COVID-19: Biden administration ups Iowa’s vaccine allotment by 16%; Reynolds defends state’s low testing rates

Gov. Kim Reynolds refers a question to Iowa Department of Human Services Director Kelly Garcia, who Zoomed in during the Jan. 27, 2021 press conference. — video still

Gov. Kim Reynolds said on Wednesday the Biden administration will be increasing every state’s allotment of COVID-19 vaccine by 16 percent starting next week.

“In Iowa, this should equate to an additional 6,300 doses,” the governor said during a news conference. “And they did say that that increased amount is guaranteed for the next three weeks.”

Reynolds said that guarantee was made during the first of what will be weekly calls during which the new administration’s team dedicated to handling COVID-19 provides information to governors.

During her Jan. 21 news conference, the governor revealed that the Trump administration had placed Iowa near the bottom among states for vaccine allocation.

“Iowa ranks 46th nationally — 46th nationally in the amount of doses allocated to our state — near the very bottom of the list,” Reynolds said.

The governor said she did not know why Iowa had been ranked so low.

During Wednesday’s news conference, Reynolds said she had been informed that a new single-dose vaccine from Johnson & Johnson will likely receive emergency use authorization from the FDA next month.

But even with a new vaccine and an increase of 16 percent in the state’s current allocation, the governor warned that Iowa’s “vaccine supply will still remain limited for quite some time.”

Reynolds began her news conference by noting that “In Iowa, new cases continue to decline and are now at levels we haven’t seen since late August.”

By late August 2020, the current COVID-19 surge the state is still experiencing was already underway.

“Iowa is making steady and positive progress in our COVID-19 response and recovery, but some skeptics suggest that maybe this is due to a decrease in testing, assuming that cases are dropping only because fewer Iowans are now choosing to be tested,” Reynolds said. “However, our testing level now is consistent with that from October and early November, which was an all-time high at that point, until demand for testing rapidly rose to record levels during the height of the surge.”

An analysis of reported PCR COVID-19 test results by the Washington Post shows that Iowa continues to rank last among states in testing. The Post found that over the last seven days, Iowa has reported 576 test result per 100,000 residents.

By way of contrast, Missouri, which ranks almost as low as Iowa — it is 43rd among states, according to the Post — reported the results of 1,842 tests per 100,000 during the same period.

Only the territories of Puerto Rico, Northern Mariana Islands and American Samoa reported fewer test results than Iowa.

Iowa’s rate of testing is also inadequate given its statewide 14-day average positivity rate. According to public health experts, including the CDC, if a state’s 14-day positivity average is above 5 percent, not enough testing is being conducted. On Wednesday, Iowa’s statewide 14-day positivity average was 10.3 percent, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health.

During her news conference, Reynolds said that IDPH will be adding a new dashboard with statistics about vaccination in the state to its COVID-19 information site “later this week.”

“And to help Iowans find a vaccine provider near them, an interactive map will display providers by county,” the governor said.

Clicking on a county will pull up a list of that county’s providers.

“Then you’ll be able to simply click to connect to their website and schedule an appointment to get more information,” Reynolds said.

Starting on Feb. 1, all Iowans 65 and older will be eligible to be vaccinated, as will other people in Tier 1 of Phase 1B of the state’s vaccination plan, which includes first responders, teachers and other school staff.

The five tiers of Phase 1B of vaccine distribution in Iowa. — Iowa Department of Public Health

During the question period on Wednesday, Reynolds was asked if she had the authority to allow health professionals such as dentists to administer vaccination to speed up the vaccination program.

“I think we can through the health proclamation,” the governor said. She also referred the question to Iowa Department of Human Services Director Kelly Garcia, who participated in the news conference via Zoom.

Garcia pointed out there is a bill currently under consideration in the Iowa Legislature to authorize dentists to provide COVID-19 vaccinations.

In addition to her role as director of DHS, Garcia is also acting director of IDPH. Despite the ongoing pandemic, the state’s public health agency has not had a fulltime director for the last six months.

Reynolds was also asked if employees at the state’s long-term care facilities would be required to take the COVID-19 vaccine, and if the state plans to disclose vaccination rates among staff at Iowa’s almost 450 privately owned long-term care facilities.

The governor turned the first part of the question over to Director Garcia. DHS is responsible for Iowa’s six state-run long-term care facilities.

“Right now, we are not making it a condition of employment, and that really is to give everyone the opportunity to make the choice,” Garcia said.

The director said her department is providing information to staff, so they will be informed about vaccinations.

“We have other ways we certainly will incent [sic] individuals taking it at our state-operated facilities, and we are very much posting all of that information online,” she said.

Garcia added that once DHS has more information about how many staff members are being vaccinated, “we’ll consider what options look like moving forward.”

Neither the governor nor Garcia answered the second part of the question about providing the public with information regarding the vaccination rates of staff at privately run long-term care facilities.

Earlier in her news conference, Reynolds said that approximately 50 percent of facility staff members had turned down the opportunity to be vaccinated when the first doses were administered at their facilities. She said some had reconsidered and been vaccinated when the vaccination teams returned to administer the second dose.

According to the governor, approximately 90 percent of residents in the state’s long-term care facilities have now been vaccinated.

Reynolds was asked on Wednesday what the state plans to do to assist older Iowans who don’t have computers or may have other difficulties in scheduling vaccination appointments when they become eligible next week.

The governor said county public health agencies were conducting outreach programs, and that she and Director Garcia were discussing the possibility of using the sort of navigators who provide assistance to people registering for health insurance.

A similar problem regarding access for senior citizens came up when Test Iowa was launched, because people wanting a test had to fill out an online questionnaire. The governor’s solution at that time was to tell seniors without computers, or who were otherwise having difficulties, to have a trusted friend or family member fill out the online form for them.

Gov. Kim Reynolds works to correct a miscommunication with a reporter during her Jan. 27, 2021 press conference. — video still

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