At Iowa State Fair, Gov. Kim Reynolds says delta spike could decline 'relatively quickly'

Ian Richardson
Des Moines Register

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said data from other countries that have battled the delta variant of the coronavirus show that such a spike in Iowa could decline "relatively quickly."

Reynolds acknowledged COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations across the state are rising as the more transmissible variant of the virus continues to spread. But she said vaccinations are helping prevent more people from experiencing severe symptoms and coronavirus cases are a much lower percentage of hospitalizations than during the state's peak late last year. 

"Yes, they're rising, but the difference between then and now is we have a vaccine," she said on the first day at the Iowa State Fair. "And the deal with the vaccine is that it prevents people from, for the most part, being hospitalized — or death." 

She said state officials are continuing to track the data, and that if the state follows what has happened in other areas of the world, a decline would come "relatively quickly" after a spike.  

"That's what happens in a lot of the other countries," she said. 

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Late Wednesday night, the Iowa Department of Public Health reported 355 people hospitalized in Iowa with COVID-19, an increase of approximately 66% from the week before. The total number of new cases this week, 4,872, was the highest since mid-February, when Iowa was on its way down from its winter surge. 

Public health leaders have said that more than 95% of people hospitalized in the Des Moines area for COVID have been unvaccinated during the recent wave. 

Reynolds' spokesperson, Pat Garrett, confirmed via email that Reynolds was not saying Thursday that the state had peaked in its delta variant surge, but rather that if Iowa sees a spike, the data from other countries show it could drop quickly.

He mentioned the United Kingdom as an example of a country where cases are dropping. There, the delta variant caused cases to spike in July. They have since come down significantly, although the country's seven-day average for new reported cases is still above levels earlier in the spring. 

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The increased virus activity in Iowa comes as schools are preparing to return to class this month and as Iowa holds one of its largest events, the Iowa State Fair, this week. The fair annually draws about 1 million people. 

Meghan Schaeffer, an epidemiologist hired as a consultant by Polk County, said Wednesday that Iowa appears to be following the path of Missouri and Arkansas, two states that saw coronavirus outbreaks last month.

She said mass gatherings like schools and the state fair could worsen the outbreak and that she would not personally attend the fair, even though she and her family are vaccinated. 

Reynolds made her comments to reporters about the surge following the opening ceremony of the Iowa State Fair. Many in the crowd gathered inside the Bruce L. Rastetter 4-H Exhibits Building for the event were unmasked. 

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Reynolds has faced calls from some parents, educators and health officials to allow school districts to require masks for teachers and students, something that is currently banned under a law Reynolds signed in May.

Meanwhile, Reynolds has criticized guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that advises vaccinated people to wear masks indoors in areas with higher amounts of virus transmission. As of Thursday afternoon, 91 of Iowa's 99 counties had high enough transmission to fall within the CDC guidelines. 

The CDC also advises everyone in schools wear a mask, regardless of the level of transmission. 

Reynolds pointed to other events the state has already held such as RAGBRAI and Hinterland, as well as to the recent uptick in vaccinations, saying she believes Iowans are able to make decisions to be safe and responsible.  

As of Thursday afternoon, just over 50% of Iowa's population was fully vaccinated, according to CDC data. That number includes 59% of those 12 and older, the age group that is eligible for the vaccine. 

Ian Richardson covers the Iowa Statehouse for the Des Moines Register. Reach him at irichardson@registermedia.com, at 515-284-8254, or on Twitter at @DMRIanR.