While the Reynolds administration offers COVID-19 data reporting, Story County public health officials plead for vaccinations to be the real solution from political leadership to decrease cases of COVID-19.
“We are continuing to push vaccination for everybody who can be vaccinated and from a medical standpoint, we are getting tired of this,” Chair of the Story County Board of Health John Paschen said. “Me personally, and many of my other colleagues, are getting a little mad that we have something that will stop this and there is people out there who are not doing it."
Story County saw a drop in cases of COVID-19 in May, but as the state began to ease off mitigations measures, slight upticks for the state began to trend. On top of the concern for COVID-19, Paschen said other viral illnesses typically seen in the winter, like Parainfluenza and RSV adenovirus, have consumed Story County practice throughout the summer months.
Paschen said the best thing the universities could do to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is to require vaccines. According to the National Conference of State Legislature, all 50 states have varying legislation which requires students to receive specified vaccines to attend school. States also vary on laws regarding exemptions relating to medical and religious reasoning.
Paschen said he doesn’t see why the COVID-19 vaccine is any different.
At this time, no state requires children to receive the COVID-19 vaccine for public school entry. Some colleges and universities do require the COVID-19 vaccine for faculty and students, but mandates vary by state. Iowa is not one of those states.
The Pfizer vaccine was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for ages 16 and up in late August. The approval indicates the Pfizer vaccine is not only safe but effective in preventing COVID-19.
“It should reassure families that the FDA, which is a very cautious organization, has been able to look at all the data that has been collected by all the people who have gotten the vaccine up to this point, and they have determined that not only is it safe but it is effective,” Paschen said.
To prevent a resurgence of COVID-19, Paschen recommends anyone who can receive a vaccine to do so and for people to wear masks. According to state reports, as of Sept. 9, 64.4 percent of individuals 18 years and older are fully vaccinated.
Sept. 3, Iowa State released the outcome of a survey reporting 72.4 percent of in-state students are vaccinated, with a margin of error of 4.5 percent. While Paschen is encouraged by the number, he also questioned how true the numbers are as the university can not require anyone to provide proof of vaccinations.
Iowa State University offers COVID-19 data updates weekly via their COVID-19: By the numbers dashboard. As of Aug. 30-Sept. 5, the positivity rate for campus data was 6.54 percent, with a total of 14 positive cases out of the 214 tests administered since the fall semester began.
Paschen said he is encouraged by the 6 percent positive rate considering factors like the beginning of school, the Iowa State Fair and 8:01 Day, but he doesn’t think we are out of the woods yet.
Gov. Kim Reynold’s office recently announced the state would reinstate COVID-19 updates every Monday, Wednesday and Friday after suspending reports in July. In the press conference, Reynolds offered education and encouraging vaccines as the current solution for the increase in cases but held firm on her opposition to any form of mandated mitigations.
Considering the increase in cases the state has seen, Paschen said the Reynolds administration’s response of education is simply not enough. On Thursday, the Biden administration issued two executive orders requiring employees of federal agencies and businesses to be vaccinated, which could impact millions of working Americans.
“I really honestly feel what Biden is proposing, is really what we need from our leadership,” Paschen said. “We need to have people who are willing to take political risk to do what is correct.”
The Board of Regents is in lock-step with the Iowa legislature. The trickle-down effect of authority leaves Iowa public universities with their hands tied when trying to adopt mitigating measures. All three public universities encourage students and faculty to vaccinate, wear a mask or test regularly to prevent transmission, leaving the discretion to individual choice. Paschen said he is “phenomenally discouraged” about the amount of mask use he has observed.
David Wong, a senior in business marketing, is vaccinated and said 99 percent of the time he wears a mask indoors.
“In my opinion, because the state shows how schools aren’t allowed to mandate masks, there isn’t really much the university can do other than encourage students to wear masks,” Wong said. “Because ultimately it is all up to the students to decide if they want to wear one. I feel like ISU is trying, but I don’t know any other ways they could try.”
Zahid Hasan is a graduate student studying electrical and computer engineering at Iowa State. He is vaccinated but still wears a mask when indoors or around crowds while on campus.
“I think it is for my own safety because I am vaccinated but not everyone is vaccinated here and the semester has begun," Hasan said. "Lots of students have come from different places so that is why I am still wearing masks although I am vaccinated."
In choosing to wear a mask, Hasan not only protects himself but others around him as those who are vaccinated can still transmit the virus to others.
Wong is from Malaysia, and back home, he has multiple high-risk family members. He said he keeps this in mind as a reason for him to wear a mask.
“Having someone with high risk, if you do get COVID, you could kill someone,” Wong said. “So it feels like it could be a murder if you say it that way, and that is what I feel.”
Public health officials also share concerns for children 12 years and under who cannot receive a vaccine. Paschen said this is an additional reason for anyone who can get vaccinated to do so.
“You know on this current COVID [situation] with the delta variant, it seems like more children are getting it this time,” Paschen said. “At least that is the data we are getting from across the country. We are not seeing that a lot here in Ames yet, but there is no reason to believe that we will not see that pattern eventually.”
Paschen also said there isn’t enough data to determine if the variant is any more threatening to children, but they are a vulnerable demographic for the virus.
Hasan said the university has handled the COVID situation well with regard to availability for vaccinations and testing clinics, but he would like to see the university mandating vaccinations and masks.
“I think the Covid situation is not over yet because we have a new delta variant,” Hasan said. “Outside the U.S. there are lots cases of the delta variant and in the United States the cases are rising, so if you see the curve there is another wave coming I think. I am not going to say the pandemic is over, so we should still be in our safe position to get through that.”
Hasan proposed continuing testing and contact tracing as another solution to prevent the spread after receiving news that some of his colleagues in classes have tested positive. Within Hasan’s surroundings, he said the majority of people he interacts with on-campus wear masks.
Wong said within his surroundings on campus; he has observed he is usually the only person wearing a mask.
“I think it is how you see COVID, so for me at least I see it as if you do get it, it is something that would harm you long-term,” Wong said.
With the passing of the Iowa-Iowa State football game, which sold out at 100 percent capacity, Paschen said he is concerned about COVID-19 dispersing as a result of travel.
“That is the problem with this virus, what it does is goes from person to person to person until it finds someone that it kills," Paschen said. “That how always acted and it is still acting that way.”