This spring, it seemed the COVID-19 pandemic was on its last legs. But with the Delta variant, the SARS-CoV-2 virus is trying to stage a comeback.
With the rate of vaccination nationwide for those ages 12 and up at 63%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with 61.4% of the same demographic in Iowa as of Wednesday, according to coronavirus.iowa.gov, President Joe Biden wants to ramp up the number of shots in arms.
However, local administrators are starting to evaluate how the president’s request Thursday that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) craft rules to have employers with 100 or more workers get the vaccine or be tested weekly will apply to them.
OSHA officials expect them to be rolled out in the next few months.
Angie Tye, director of human resources at Waverly Health Center, told Waverly Newspapers the hospital has been strongly recommending vaccinations for both its staff and the general public.
“Our current staff and volunteer vaccination levels are very high, and we continue to require protective measures such as masks and eye protection when our employees are in contact with our patients, even when our employees are vaccinated,” Tye said wrote in an email Friday. “We are prepared to move forward with vaccinating all staff if needed.”
Tye didn’t say how much of WHC’s staff is currently vaccinated, but Angie Daniels, marketing and development manager at Bartels Lutheran Retirement Community said its employees are at a 70% vaccine level, above the state average, and 95% of its residents have been inoculated.
“Bartels workflow has been drastically impacted for over a year now, regarding work force, testing and visitation,” Daniels said. “The regulations continue to change and there were additional changes which came out Friday, Sept. 10, 2021.”
City of Waverly Human Resources Manager Danielle Stratton told Waverly Newspapers on Monday she is looking into the requirements to better grasp how the new federal requirements will impact city employees.
During his address to the nation late afternoon Thursday, President Biden touted the progress his administration had made in both administering the vaccine – increasing from just 2 million people Jan. 20 when he took office to more than 175 million at the time of his speech – and the economic recovery efforts post-pandemic, saying job creation has increased from just 50,000 per month to an average of 700,000 over the last three months.
But he called the current situation “a pandemic of the unvaccinated.” He said progress is being stymied by the 80 million Americans who are eligible but refuse to take the shot, along with elected officials who are “actively working to undermine the fight against COVID-19.”
“We cannot allow these actions to stand in the way of protecting the large majority of Americans who have done their part and want to get life back to normal,” Biden said. “I’m announcing … a new plan to require more Americans to be vaccinated, to combat those blocking public health.”
He mentioned many of those not inoculated yet were waiting for the vaccines to get full Food and Drug Administration approval, as the three available were under emergency use authorization since December 2020. The FDA did that for the Pfizer/BioNTech drug for those 18 and up last month, and the Moderna formula is under consideration currently.
“So, the time for waiting is over,” the president said. “This is not about freedom or personal choice. It’s about protecting yourself and those around you – the people you work with, the people you care about, the people you love. My job as president is to protect all Americans.”
However, the announcement received backlash from Iowa political leaders. Gov. Kim Reynolds called the president’s announcement “dangerous and unprecedented steps to insert the federal government even further into our lives while dismissing the ability of Iowans and Americans to make healthcare decisions for themselves.”
“Biden’s plan will only worsen our workforce shortage and further limit our economic recovery,” Reynolds continued. “I believe and trust Iowans to make the best health decisions for themselves and their families. It’s time for President Biden to do the same. Enough is enough.”
First Congressional District Rep. Ashley Hinson, R-Marion, called the mandate unconstitutional.
“Getting the COVID-19 vaccine is a personal choice, a choice my family and I decided to make because the vaccine is safe and effective, and a choice I believe Iowans should be able to make for themselves,” Hinson said in a statement released Thursday night. “Doling out fines to small businesses and punishments to workers will only worsen the economic challenges we are facing. This is the wrong approach to increasing vaccinations and moving our country forward.”
In a tweet, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said he’s encouraged his fellow Iowans who are eligible to get the vaccine to take it.
“But it is YOUR choice I OPPOSE the heavy hand of federal govt mandating the vaccine on private biz,” Grassley wrote in his tweet.
Previously, the CDC, FDA and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) had been preparing rules that required facilities that accept Medicare and Medicaid funds, like Bartels, to vaccinate their staff.
“From the beginning, Bartels has encouraged staff to be vaccinated and has provided ongoing education, answered questions and concerns and visited with staff members one-on-one,” said Daniels, the Bartels marketing director. “Bartels is also bringing in some area experts to provide more education and another opportunity to have Covid-related questions answered.
“As a long-term care facility, Bartels must follow all of the guidelines provided by CMS. At this time, Bartels is still waiting on the regulations and clarity from CMS around the vaccine mandate announced and exemptions before any implementation can occur.
“It is difficult to determine the impact on Bartels staffing until we have the specifics from CMS. We will continue to encourage staff to be vaccinated, work with each person individually and continue to tackle the challenges of staffing shortages as they arise. But, most importantly, Bartels is committed to our resident-first philosophy and enriching the lives through quality services and Christian care.”
According to the Iowa Department of Public Health as of Wednesday, there are 544 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Iowa, with 153 in ICUs and 77 who have been admitted within the previous 24-hour period. The unvaccinated account for 78.7% of all COVID-19 patients and 89.5% of those in ICUs.
WHC Interim CEO Heidi Solheim said the hospital has seen an increase in respiratory illnesses over the past four weeks, but the number of COVID patients in Waverly is low compared to other areas.
“But those that we are caring for are mostly unvaccinated and younger than we saw prior to having the vaccines,” Solheim said. “Because other hospitals in the state are also experiencing high volumes of patients due to COVID-19 and other chronic illnesses or injuries, it is more difficult to transfer very sick patients to higher levels of care.
“Hospitals in the region and across the state are struggling to find nurses, technologists and many other workers. There may be empty beds in a hospital, but there aren’t enough staff members to provide care for patients who need the bed. This is extremely concerning as schools are back in session and the flu season is approaching. It is essential that everyone does their part to preserve health care resources and that includes getting vaccinated to prevent illness. I highly encourage anyone who is still unsure about the COVID-19 vaccine to talk with your health care provider.”