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COVID-19: Cedar Rapids hospitals suspend elective surgeries; Gov. Reynolds wants National Guard vaccination requirement canceled


Jordan Sellergren/Little Village

The surge in COVID-19 is continuing, according to the latest weekly update from the Iowa Department of Public Health. IDPH reported on Wednesday another 10,476 Iowans had tested positive for the virus during the most recent seven-day period.

At the beginning of this reporting period, IDPH announced the State Hygienic Laboratory had detected the first case of the Omicron variant in the state. At that time, Omicron had been confirmed in 23 states. That number has now grown to 36 states.

Studies published since Omicron was first identified on Nov. 24 indicate it is much more transmissible than Delta or other known variants. A new study from Hong Kong University found that Omicron mostly reproduces in a person’s airways rather than their lungs, which may be one reason for reports that it is less likely to produce serious illness than previous variants.

In a speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation on Thursday, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Omicron “is the most transmissible virus of COVID that we had to deal with thus far. It will soon become dominant here. That’s one thing we know.”

Fauci also warned that the country is seeing a resurgence of Delta along with the emergence of Omicron, and “things could get really bad, particularly for the unvaccinated.”

“When you look at the Delta that we’re dealing with right now, we’re having an increase in every parameter, an increase in cases, an increase in hospitalization and deaths are still at 1,100,” he said. “So we are in for a difficult situation, particularly among those who are unvaccinated. They are very vulnerable.”

Delta was still the dominant variant in Iowa, IDPH said last week when it announced the presence of Omicron. In its weekly updates, the department does not provide any information on which variants are responsible for newly confirmed cases. The State Hygienic Laboratory only genetically sequences 300 test samples a week to determine the COVID-19 variant present.

Public health officials are pushing for everyone to get vaccinated against COVID-19, and for those who are fully vaccinated to get a booster shot to increase their protection against Omicron. According to the latest data from IDPH, 55.2 percent of Iowans are fully vaccinated. The department does not provide any information regarding the number of people who have received booster shots.

For the fourth week in a row, Iowa hit a new yearly high for the number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals. On Wednesday, IDPH reported 823 hospitalized patients, up from 777 the previous week.

The toll the current surge is taking on healthcare facilities became evident in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, as Mercy Medical Center and UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s Hospital issued a joint statement saying both hospitals were suspending all elective and non-urgent surgical procedures until after Christmas.

Dr. Tony Myers, chief medical officer at Mercy, told the Gazette what the hospitals are currently experiencing goes beyond even the surge of November 2020.

“The number of patients that we’ve taken care of with COVID-19 over the last three months is massively greater than it was during our surge in November [2020],” he said.

It was the surge in November 2020 that finally persuaded Gov. Kim Reynolds to take action, and issue a temporary and limited statewide mask mandate. The governor has not commented on the current surge, or on the detection of Omicron in the state. The only COVID-related action Reynolds took this week was to join with four other Republican governors in sending a letter to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, asking him to cancel the requirement that members of the National Guard be vaccinated against COVID-19.

In their letter, Reynolds and the other governors did not object to any of the other 17 vaccinations members of the military are required to have, just the vaccination against COVID-19.

In its update on Wednesday, IDPH disclosed another 130 deaths from the virus. Those newly reported deaths bring Iowa’s official COVID-19 death toll to 7,680.


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