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Polk County Now Has High Rate Of Coronavirus Spread; Officials Urge More Vaccinations, Masking

Michael Leland
IPR News
A total of 75 of Iowa’s 99 counties have a high or substantial level of coronavirus spread, meaning the CDC recommends vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals wear a mask in indoor public places.

Iowa’s most populous county now has a high level of coronavirus transmission, according to the CDC, and Polk County officials are urging all residents to resume wearing masks in public indoor spaces and to get vaccinated.

A total of 75 of Iowa’s 99 counties have a high or substantial level of spread as of Monday, with almost all cases driven by the more contagious delta variant. That’s up from 49 counties last week, according to the Des Moines Register.

The CDC’s latest guidance says all people living in high or substantial risk areas—vaccinated and unvaccinated—should wear masks in indoor settings.

Polk County Health Department Director Helen Eddy said the county’s vaccination rate is still too low to prevent the spread of variants, and that the delta variant is driving an increase in hospitalizations.

“If you remain unvaccinated, you will get COVID,” Eddy said. “The only question is how sick you will become.”

Polk County Board of Supervisors Chair Angela Connolly said the county is moving backward in its fight against COVID-19 as vaccination rates stagnate.

“This unvaccinated pool of people are also leaving open opportunity to create another variant, one that might be resistant to the vaccine, or one that might be more deadly,” Connolly said. “As we start to see more large gatherings such as concerts, the state fair, back to school—this is really a perfect storm.”

Connolly said Polk County is requiring proof of vaccination and mask-wearing for its employees and encouraged other workplaces to do the same.

Local governments are prohibited from enacting city or county-wide mask mandates that affect private property under a law passed by the Iowa Legislature earlier this year. Schools in Iowa are also banned from requiring masks.

Central Iowa medical professionals said at a news conference Monday that the vaccine isn’t perfect, but it’s very safe and effective in preventing serious illness from COVID-19.

“At my institution in the last 4 months, we had about more than 200 patients, and 95% of them were not vaccinated,” said Dr. Aneesa Afroze, an infectious disease consultant at MercyOne Des Moines. “And 4 percent succumbed to this illness. So it is real, and in order to prevent hospitalizations, in order to prevent deaths, vaccination is very important. Prevention is very important.”

Afroze said the population of COVID-19 patients at her hospital has shifted from older people to younger, unvaccinated people. She said 60 percent of the patients in the past four months were under the age of 60.

“Vaccines do work, and please get yourself vaccinated and mask when you are out of your house among people who you don’t know if they’re vaccinated or not, and especially indoors,” Afroze said.

She said breakthrough cases are happening, but the death rate for vaccinated people who get COVID-19 is very low.

Dr. Nicole Gilg Gachiani, the chief physician quality officer at Broadlawns, said the vaccines continue to work against the delta variant, but if the virus keeps circulating, it’s not clear if the vaccines will work against future mutations.

“We plead with you today to do everything that you can to try to curb this pandemic,” she said. “Nothing is perfect. We are not saying the vaccines are perfect. We are not saying that wearing a mask is perfect, nor washing your hands is perfect. However, all of them together lower the risk and help protect our community.”

Note: This story was corrected to attribute the final quote to Dr. Nicole Gilg Gachiani. It was previously incorrectly attributed to Dr. Afroze.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter