“We can not continue to suspend duly enacted laws and treat COVID-19 as a public health emergency indefinitely,” said Gov. Kim Reynolds. Above, she speaks at the Iowa Association of Business and Industry conference at the Coralville Marriott Hotel and Conference Center last June. (The Gazette)
As Iowa is set to scale down its nationwide coronavirus response this week, local public health agencies are preparing to adjust how they monitor virus transmission at the community level.
The state’s proclamation of coronavirus disasters expires Tuesday, just before midnight Wednesday, ending the public health contingency that has been in place since COVID-19 arrived in Iowa two years ago.
The proclamation, signed by Governor Kim Reynolds on March 17, 2020, redistributed state resources to focus on pandemic control and suspended certain state laws to support public health and health units in the front line.
As of Wednesday, coronavirus management will be “part of the normal day-to-day business,” similar to how the state’s public health department responds to the flu, according to Reynolds.
“We can not continue to suspend duly enacted laws and treat COVID-19 as a public health emergency indefinitely,” the Republican governor said. in a statement earlier this month.
“After two years, it is no longer possible or necessary. Influenza and other infectious diseases are part of our everyday lives, and coronavirus can be handled in the same way. ”
Local public health officials, however, are concerned that this move may lead some Iowa residents to believe the pandemic is over. Linn County Public Health Director Pramod Dwivedi said the end of the proclamation should not be equated with the end of COVID-19.
“SARS-CoV-2 remains in the high-transmission society, and we all need to continue our efforts to protect ourselves and our neighbors,” he said, referring to the new coronavirus.
Pramod Dwivedi, Linn County Public Health
Reynolds’ announcement comes as new COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths are declining after the recent rise driven by the highly transmissible omicron variant.
However, outbreaks of coronavirus in long-term care facilities have continued to rise to the triple digits in recent weeks. From the last Wednesday d. the latest weekly corona report from the state, there were 114 facilities that registered three or more cases among residents and staff.
By comparison, Iowa has not recorded any outbreaks of flu in long-term care facilities so far this season. From the week of 5 Feb.there were 120 flu-related hospitalizations and 15 deaths due to the virus.
The flu is endemic, which means that the timing of its occurrence, the rate of infection and the demand it places on hospitals can be predicted. Many experts say COVID-19 will eventually become endemic as well, but Iowa – and the rest of the nation – is not there yet, said Lina Tucker Reinders, executive director of the Iowa Public Health Association.
“What’s happening now is the goal of coronavirus surveillance, where we are tracking it like other communicable diseases,” she said. “But the question is, is it the right time to do this?”
Iowa Department of Public Health Interim Director Kelly Garcia agreed that COVID-19 is not yet endemic, telling reporters earlier this month that while that will ultimately be the case, “we are not there yet.”
Kelly Garcia, Iowa Department of Public Health
Local public health adjusts coronavirus detection
With the proclamation ending this week, one of the most notable effects will have shifted in how the Iowa Department of Public Health reports their coronavirus data. And as a result, local public health officials say it can be harder to understand the seriousness of the virus’ effects in their communities.
“We are still learning what and to what extent the impact is, but at the moment it is minimal,” said Sam Jarvis, community health manager for Johnson County Public Health. “However, there are concerns about the report.
“We want to continue to have the best visibility on local transmission as possible so we can keep the community informed and make informed decisions.”
On Tuesday, the state’s public health department closes down its COVID-19 tracking site – approxoronavirus.iowa.gov – and instead provide these statistics on IDPH’s website, Garcia saidlier this month.
Going forward, the state will also no longer require reporting of negative test results – meaning local public health agencies will no longer be able to report seven-day positivity rates for their counties.
State-wide infection rates have been harder to measure accurately in recent months with the wide availability of testing options in the home – meaning, Tucker Reinders said, new case data on the state dashboard are likely to be underreported.
In addition, Iowa will no longer require hospitals and nursing homes to report its case count to the state. Instead, these measurements will be available on federal sites, as these devices are still required to report to federal units, Garcia said.
Some public health agencies in eastern Iowa have said they will continue to track these measurements without state help. Dwivedi said Linn County Public Health will continue to publicly share county admission data available from local hospitals and from federal officials.
Johnson County Public Health will continue to ask long-term care facilities to report and coordinate outbreaks with the ward, Jarvis said.
However, Linn County will not monitor these outbreaks as these health incidents now fall under the federal centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services, Dwivedi noted.
Without the state-run COVID-19 website, Tucker Reinders said she’s concerned that individuals will no longer have easy access to data that can help them make informed choices in the near future. Any decrease in vigilance in pandemic mitigation strategies can have consequences for vulnerable populations or families with children under the age of five who are not yet able to be vaccinated.
“What is the impression the public will get if this one-stop-shop is taken away?” she said. “Ending the proclamation has not stopped the pandemic.”
The state is also pulling the plug vaccinate.iowa.govan online tool that helps Iowaners find available vaccine agreements in their area.
Local public health officials continue to urge residents to be vaccinated and boosted against coronavirus and to practice other precautions, especially as the virus transmission rate remains high. This includes staying home when experiencing symptoms and wearing a mask in a public setting.
“While we hope to continue to see cases and hospitalizations fall if that should change, we will continue to emphasize the mitigating measures we have had to practice for the last almost two years so that we can continue to protect ourselves and others and support and support and maintain our local workforce and health capacity, ”said Jarvis of Johnson County.
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