The Iowa Majority Party is pushing for legislation limiting vaccine and mask requirements as Iowa’s Iowa Public Health Disaster Decree expires this month.
Chairman of the State Government Committee, Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, said the “Medical Freedom” bill passed by the House State Government Committee on Tuesday is one of the largest and most effective bills in the Legislative Assembly related to COVID-19.
The bill, House Study Bill 647, states that companies, educational institutions and public entities may not request medical treatment or require a person to share evidence of immunization or withhold goods, services or options based on a person’s medical status.
This includes refusing to hire a potential employee and refusing to serve a person based on their vaccine status. The bill also states that these devices may not require face coverage or testing based on a person’s status or willingness to share evidence of vaccination. The bill prohibits companies from giving discounts or bonuses to people who have been vaccinated.
“I’m not anti-vaccine, I’m pro-vaccine,” Kaufmann said. “If you want to get the vaccines, boosters, put on a mask that is 100% of your prerogative, which I support. But you have no right as a government or employer to force anyone to do any of those things. , and that is the core of what the bill is about. ”
Kaufmann said lawmakers are open to making changes as the bill goes through the legislative process. He said he heard from the University of Iowa Director of State Relations Keith Saunders about some changes that the user interface would like to see in terms of protecting patients in the healthcare system.
Saunders declined to provide details on the changes the user interface would like to see, but he said the university looks forward to working with the Legislature in the future.
Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City, ranking member of the State Government Committee, said she is concerned that the public is dropping their guard at this stage of the pandemic. She opposed the bill.
“Our individual freedom only goes so far,” Mascher said. “They say, ‘Well, you know, my body, my choice’ about whether or not I get a vaccine. That’s right. There’s no doubt about it. No one is forced to be vaccinated. However, some companies require [vaccination] if you want to work there. If you do not want to work there, then fine and go and find a job in another company for which you do not need to be vaccinated. ”
Data visualization by Anthony Neri / The Daily Iowan
Mascher compared choosing not to be vaccinated to choosing to drive while intoxicated.
“It’s not as easy as saying, ‘Well, I can do whatever I want with my body, because it does not affect you.’ Well, it does, “she said.
On February 15, the state’s COVID-19 data website, coronavirus.iowa.gov, was taken down. Iowans can still find COVID-19 numbers on the Center for Disease Control and Prevention website and other aggregators. According to the CDCAs of February 18, there have been 7,070 cases and 119 deaths within the last seven days. All but one of Iowa’s 99 counties experience high transmission.
When Gov. Kim Reynolds announced final extension of the public health emergency on February 3, she said it was not necessary or possible to treat the pandemic as an emergency and that COVID-19 should be treated in the same way as other infections, diseases such as influenza.
For some in public health, the move was to stop sharing data at the state level and end the proclamation prematurely.
“For the most part, many of us in public health see that this is too early to complete the proclamation,” said Sam Jarvis, head of the Johnson County Department of Public Health in the public health department.
Jarvis said he does not think the end of the proclamation will have a major impact on local operations, but because Iowa only reports positive tests and not negative ones, the test positivity rate will be unknown.
Despite the end of the proclamation, Jarvis said COVID-19 still causes illness and hospitalization.
“There is still concern out there, and we still stress how important it is to continue to implement all the personal mitigation measures that we have been practicing for almost two years now,” he said, “and for those of us who are in a workforce with sensitive or vulnerable populations, these will continue to be a priority and importance. “
COVID-19 cases in Iowa have dropped markedly from a peak of over 5,000 new cases daily around January 20, but they are still higher than in the summer of 2021, when the CDC loosened some mask recommendations for vaccinated people. The daily average for new cases on 19 February was 852, the first time the average was below 1,000 cases since October 2021.
Lina Tucker Reinders, executive director of the Iowa Public Health Association, said ending the health crisis while the state is still dealing with pandemic-related stressors sends mixed messages.
“It’s a concern that the end of the emergency proclamation somehow gives the public notice that ‘It’s done, we’re moving on.’ And it’s not done yet, we’re moving on,” she said. “Many people are unable to move on because their children have not yet been vaccinated, they have medical vulnerabilities that put them at increased risk, they are healthcare professionals who are completely strained.”
According to New York Times, 72 percent of Iowans five and older have at least one dose of the vaccine, and 65 percent have received their first two-dose series. Children under the age of five are not eligible for the vaccines.
Tucker Reinders said that instead of returning to life before the pandemic, people should use the experience of the last two years to create a better normal. She said people now have a greater understanding of how interconnected they are as a community when it comes to health.
“There’s so much that’s been revealed about the way we work, the way we respond to the stocks that exist in our society that we can not return to normal,” Tucker Reinders said. “What was normal two and a half years ago no longer exists.”
Tucker Reinders said she would like to see a stronger investment in state and local health authorities funding from the Iowa government, as well as increased access to mental health resources, as damage to mental health is a secondary impact on the pandemic that will last a long time, she said.
There are also bills in the Iowa House and Senate that deal with COVID-19 vaccinations for children going to day care and K-12 school. Both House File 2298 prohibits the registration of vaccinations, and Senate file 2079 provides medical and religious exemptions.
Kaufmann said the end of the emergency proclamation is a continuation of common sense leadership from Reynolds.
“I think the general public is quite ready to figure out how to continue to be aware of the problem that exists, but to definitely get back to normal,” Kaufmann said. “I hear it every day, and it’s not just Republicans anymore, I hear it from independents and Democrats, I hear it from liberals, that it’s time to figure out how to move forward in a way that can almost like normalcy. “