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COVID-19: Almost 12,000 new cases, 64 more deaths; UI’s ‘few protections’ get national attention


Jordan Sellergren/Little Village

In its weekly update on Wednesday, the Iowa Department of Public Health reported another 11,723 confirmed cases of COVID-19, a 39 percent increase from the 8,408 new cases during the previous seven-day reporting period. The rate of new cases in this latest update is the highest the state has experienced since Jan. 11.

For the second week in a row, children accounted for the greatest share of new cases, according to IDPH’s reporting by age group. Those under the age of 18 made up 29 percent of the weekly total, with more 3,600 newly confirmed cases.

The number of hospitalizations held steady at 578, but the number of COVID-19 outbreaks in long-term care facilities increased from 21 during the previous reporting period to 23.

In its update, IDPH reported another 64 deaths from the virus, bringing Iowa’s COVID-19 death toll to 6,401.

The number of fully vaccinated Iowans increased by half a percentage point, meaning that 50.1 percent of the state’s residents are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to IDPH.

IDPH Sept. 15, 2021 update of new COVID-19 cases by age group.

Last week, President Biden rolled out a new strategy to push people to get vaccinated, which Gov. Reynolds immediately denounced as “dangerous and unprecedented steps to insert the federal government even further into our lives” that will “only worsen our workforce shortage and further limit our economic recovery.”

A key component of Biden’s plan is to require as a matter of workplace safety that companies with more than 100 workers to require employees to either be vaccinated or tested be tested for COVID-19 weekly. That requirement has highlighted the different approaches to COVID-19 mitigation by the Iowa City-Cedar Rapids area’s two largest employers, Collins Aerospace and the University of Iowa.

Raytheon Technologies, the parent company of Collins, has announced it will require all employees to be vaccinated by the end of the year. Raytheon CEO Greg Hayes also contradicted Reynolds’ assessment of the economic impact of Biden’s new policy while discussing his company’s future prospects during an online speech to an investment conference this week.

“I think the president’s mandate last week in terms of vaccines was only going to strengthen the outlook as we go into the fourth quarter,” Hayes said.

The University of Iowa, on the other hand, does not require vaccinations for staff or students (although students are still required to have other vaccinations). It also does not require face masks in indoor settings or social distancing. Professors and other university employees are even severely limited in how they can speak about the pandemic to students. It is the only school in the Big Ten Conference without such basic COVID-19 safety measures.

UI, like Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa, was able to require masking and social distancing early this year, but the Iowa Board of Regents changed its health and safety pandemic policies in May to reflect Reynolds’ favored approach of leaving COVID-19 health decisions up to each individual. The universities are allowed to generally encourage students and staff to behave responsibly, wear masks and vaccinate if they believe it is their own interest to do so. All three universities say they have increased cleaning of their facilities, and made some modifications to buildings.

This hands-off approach to public health during a pandemic caught the attention of The New Yorker’s Isaac Chotiner, who interviewed Professor Silvia Secchi, a natural resource economist in the UI Department of Geographical and Sustainability Science, about “the challenges of teaching in an environment with so few protections against COVID-19 infection.”

The following exchange is at the heart of the illuminating interview, which was published on Tuesday.

What was most striking to me about the rules is that, for anyone who’s ever been in school, your professor or your teacher usually has a fair amount of leeway in what they tell you to do, whether it’s not to put your feet up on the desk or not to show up without a shirt on, or not to interrupt people. The idea that a teacher should have some control over his or her own classroom is generally, I think, pretty universally agreed upon.

We cannot even ask for them to wear masks during office hours, in our own offices. That’s where we’re at. And what you’re pointing out, too, is how this is actually really troubling to me as an instructor because I feel like my agency is being restricted, in ways that negatively impact my pedagogy in ways that go beyond covid.

What do you mean by that?

I mean that I am being forced to behave in ways that are contrary to the best science and the best public-health advice. And I cannot even discuss this with my students. My students and I talk about power and power structures and how progress is impeded by powerful interests who prefer to have things the way they are, when we talk about climate change. And I feel the same thing is happening to us now with classrooms, but I am being gagged and I cannot discuss this with my students.

Secchi said the approach Iowa has taken in dealing with the pandemic is “a very good example of the failures of conversations in the United States about what the social contract is and what it’s about. It’s not about me for me. I’m vaccinated. That’s not how society works. That’s not how we implement policies for the collective.”

Asked what the impact of the Regents’ prohibitions regarding COVID-19 mitigation has been on her colleagues, Secchi replied, “I think morale has never been this low.”


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