Iowa joins another lawsuit against vaccine mandates; new COVID cases spike, pushing Iowa over half a million total cases

Jordan Sellergren/Little Village

Gov. Kim Reynolds announced on Wednesday that Iowa is suing the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) to stop the requirement that all workers at healthcare facilities that accept Medicare and Medicaid be vaccinated against COVID-19. The action came just six days after the governor said the state would take “immediate legal action” to stop the new OSHA standard mandating workers at companies with 100 or more employees be vaccinated or tested weekly for COVID-19.

Iowa had already joined a lawsuit on Oct. 29 to overturn the Biden administration’s requirement that contractors with the federal government have their employees vaccinated against the virus.

“Medical providers that have been on the frontlines of this pandemic saving lives deserve the freedom and ability to make their own informed health care decisions,” Reynolds said in a written statement about her decision to join eight other Republican-led states in the lawsuit against CMS. “Not only is this an attack on individual liberties, it’s yet another mandate that will further exacerbate the critical workforce issues currently impacting the health care industry across the country.”

The new lawsuit was filed in the federal court in Missouri on Wednesday. It does not dispute whether CMS has the power to impose requirements on businesses and organizations that accept Medicare and Medicaid, but asserts CMS did not follow its standard practice of consulting with officials in each state before creating the vaccine requirement. When the requirement was published last week, CMS stated that the urgent need to increase vaccinations among workers in clinics, hospitals and nursing homes led it to waive the routine consultation process.

According to CMS data, there had been 2,497 COVID-19 deaths in Iowa nursing homes reported as of last week, when the agency issued the vaccination requirement. At the same time, the Iowa Department of Public Health was reporting there had been 504 COVID-19 outbreaks in the state’s nursing homes.

IDPH has an unusually restrictive definition of an outbreak in a nursing home that requires at least three residents or staff members to test positive for the virus before a facility is designated as having an outbreak. In other states, such as Minnesota, one case in a resident, staff member or contract worker qualifies as an outbreak.

According to IDPH’s weekly update on Wednesday, there are 29 ongoing outbreaks in Iowa nursing homes, an increase from the 23 reported during the previous update.

The number of new cases reported in this week’s IDPH update jumped to 9,067, an increase of 1,424 over the 7,643 newly confirmed cases the department reported in its Nov. 3 weekly update. The cases reported in this week’s update bring the total number of confirmed cases in Iowa since COVID-19 was first detected in March 2020 to 500,119.

Hospitalizations also increased to 524 in this week’s update. The previous week’s total of 483, was the first time IDPH had reported fewer than 500 hospitalized COVID-19 patients since its Sept. 8 update.

IDPH reported another 97 deaths from the virus on Wednesday, bringing the state’s COVID-19 death toll to 7,166.