COVID-19: Gov. Reynolds says ‘We need to move on,’ IDPH reports another 172 deaths

Jordan Sellergren/Little Village

“It’s time to end it and move on,” Gov. Kim Reynolds told reporters at the Iowa State Capitol on Wednesday when asked about her decision to stop classifying COVID-19 as a public health emergency next week. “And we need to treat it [COVID-19] like we do other viruses. So, the Department of Public Health will continue to monitor, like they always have, like they do with flu this time of year. So, it’ll be a very similar process. And it was just, it was time to move on.”

The Reynolds administration will eliminate the two state websites dedicated to providing the public with COVID-19 information, after the final public health emergency proclamation for the pandemic lapses at 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 15. Instead, the Iowa Department of Public Health will produce more limited weekly reports on COVID-19, similar to the ones it publishes on flu cases.

The governor pointed to the declining number of new cases of the virus and COVID-19 hospitalizations as reasons for her actions. And for the third week in a row, the IDPH weekly report did show a decline in both numbers, although both remain far higher than they were in early November before the current surge in virus activity began. And comparing the COVID-19 data in this week’s update to the information in IDPH’s last flu report, shows the difference between how contiguous and lethal the two viruses are.

According to most recent flu report, which covers the week ending Jan. 29, there were 316 newly confirmed cases of flu that week. There were five “influenza-related hospitalizations” and no flu outbreaks at long-term care facilities. IDPH reported two flu-related deaths for that week.

In sharp contrast, IDPH’s weekly update on Wednesday reported 12,833 newly confirmed cases of the virus. There were 617 COVID-19 patients in hospitals, and 114 long-term care facilities reported outbreaks of the virus. That’s the highest number of COVID-19 outbreaks in long-term facilities since December 2020.

In its update, IDPH also disclosed another 172 deaths from the virus, bringing Iowa’s official COVID-19 death toll to 8,829.

But the governor was adamant about the need to “move on” while speaking to reporters on Wednesday.

“We need to move on,” she said. “I think Iowans know what they need to do. They’ve demonstrated that, so it’s time to move on and treat this like we do other viruses.”

Reynolds has routinely talked about the need to not let the virus prevent a return to a pre-pandemic lifestyle since May 28, 2020, when she lifted most COVID-19 restrictions in 77 of Iowa’s 99 counties.

“Our recovery is contingent upon our ability to protect both the lives and livelihoods of Iowans,” the governor said at the time. “We can’t prioritize one over the other, we must prioritize both to move forward.”

When Reynolds delivered those remarks, IDPH has only reported 464 COVID-19 deaths.

Even as the pandemic ceases to officially be a public health emergency in Iowa next week, a new tool to combat it may become available.

Speaking at the work session of the Johnson County Board of Supervisors on Wednesday, Johnson County Public Health Community Health Manager Sam Jarvis said his department had been advised the use of a Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children six months to 4 years old will likely be approved by the middle of this month. Shipments of the vaccine should begin almost as soon as it receives approval.

“At the moment the state’s plan is that each of the 99 counties will get 200 doses,” Jarvis said. “And following that week, we’ll continue our regular ordering schedule through the state health department.”

But even as the possibility of expanding the age range of children who can be vaccinated against COVID-19, a bill healthcare professional warn could discourage parents from having their children vaccinated advanced in the Iowa House of Representatives.

The Education Committee voted in favor of HF 2040, which will now go to the full House for consideration. The bill would prohibit “requiring an immunization against COVID-19 for a person to be enrolled in any licensed child care center, elementary or secondary school, or postsecondary school in Iowa prior to July 1, 2029, notwithstanding whether a person’s attendance is in person or virtual.”

Thirty Republicans — half of all House Republicans — have signed on as co-sponsors of the bill.

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