Roughly two out of five COVID-19 deaths in Iowa were preventable, former UI Public Health dean postulates

Jordan Sellergren/Little Village

The Iowa Department of Public Health reported another 117 deaths from COVID-19 in its weekly update on Wednesday, increasing the state’s pandemic death toll to 6,965. The number of deaths from the virus reported by IDPH has increased in every weekly update in October.

“It is instructive to compare Iowa and Minnesota, which have nearly identical proportions of their populations at high risk because of being 65 years of age and older (17%). Minnesota, however, has nearly double the proportion of minorities, a second well-established risk factor for increased COVID-19 mortality,” Dr. James A. Merchant wrote in an op-ed published by the Des Moines Register on Sunday. “Yet, Iowa has suffered 99 per 100,000 population more COVID-19 deaths than has Minnesota, a total of over 3,000 excess preventable deaths for Iowa’s population of 3.155 million as of 2019.”

Merchant is the former director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Division of Respiratory Disease Studies, and was the founding dean of the University of Iowa College of Public Health. In his op-ed, Merchant argues the difference in political leadership in the two states.

Minnesota’s strong public health mitigation efforts started with its governor and include its state and local health departments, health care providers, hospitals, academics, numerous community leaders and businesses who, together, have protected their public’s health, saved lives, prevented hospitalizations, reduced health care costs and impacts on their health care providers, economy and communities.

In Iowa, Gov. Kim Reynolds and the Republicans who dominate the state legislature have taken a very different approach, restricting the power of local governments to create mask mandates; prohibiting mask mandates in schools (a federal judge has issued a temporary injunction preventing enforcement of this ban; Reynolds is appealing that decision); stopping local governments and schools from requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination status (but not proof of the other vaccinations required by Iowa law); and creating penalties for any business that requires proof of COVID-19 vaccination.

Reynolds has also said she will sue the federal government to overturn any vaccine requirement the Biden administration introduces, and told a radio talk show host earlier this month that she was working with legislative leaders on a bill to ban COVID-19 vaccine mandates in the state. On Thursday, a bill that would allow people to opt out any vaccine mandate created by a business was introduced during the Iowa Legislature’s special session to consider redistricting maps.

According to IDPH’s latest update, 52.5 percent of all Iowans are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Among Iowans 12 and older, 61.9 percent are fully vaccinated.

In its update on Wednesday, IDPH confirmed another 6,983 new cases of COVID-19. That is 76 more cases than the department reported in its previous update, ending what had been a three-week-long trend of declining new case numbers.

Hospitalizations declined to 531 during this last seven-day period from 557 in the previous update. IDPH has reported more than 500 COVID-19 hospitalizations in every update since Sept. 8.

Also in every update since Sept. 8, children have accounted for the highest percentage of newly confirmed cases in IDPH’s breakdown of infections by age group. Iowans under 18 made up 22 percent of the cases in Wednesday’s update.

On Tuesday, the FDA’s panel of outside advisors on vaccines recommended approval of the use of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine in children ages 5 and up. Final approval for use of Pfizer in that age group is expected next week.

Speaking to the Johnson County Board of Supervisors on Wednesday, Sam Jarviso of the Johnson County Public Health Department said plans are in place for local clinics to begin vaccinating newly eligible children next week, if the FDA and CDC grant final approval.

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