DES MOINES — Gov. Kim Reynolds said COVID-19 vaccines are the state's greatest tool to fight the surging delta variant of the virus.
With more than 8,300 new cases reported in a seven-day period by the Iowa Department of Public Health, Reynolds on Thursday said the state's role is to educate the public. The public's role is to get vaccinated.
"It's obvious that vaccines are our best tool against countering COVID-19," Reynolds said. "We want to reiterate to Iowans to get the information that you need, do the research and get a vaccine. It's the best thing that you can do to protect yourself and your loved ones."
The delta variant, which experts say is more contagious than the original coronavirus, is prevalent across the United States and Iowa, and is causing a surge in new COVID-19 cases.
While hospitalizations are still a third of what they were during the worst of the state's pandemic in November, it only took roughly a month for hospitalizations to rise from 500 to 1,500. That fall spike put hospitals in a bind as elective procedures were impacted, and emergency rooms and intensive care units overflowed.
With flu season approaching, and cases of respiratory syncytial virus rising as well, Reynolds warned Iowans they need to do their part in slowing virus spread.
“We want to do our part to ensure Iowans that need care, under any circumstances, can get it,” Reynolds said. “And getting vaccinated is the most effective tool that we have in making that happen.”
Reynolds continued to defend her positions against mandates for the vaccine or to wear masks.
"I believe the government's role in a public health crisis is to provide the public reliable information so that they can make their own informed decisions," Reynolds said. "I also believe this approach is more effective than mandates, that attempt to dictate other people's behavior."
Reynolds has used mandates in the past to slow spread, however. In mid-November, when Reynolds held a prime-time address to institute the mandate, the 14-day trends were above 60,000 for new cases. Two weeks after the mandate, the 14-day case trend was halved and had fallen to around 13,000 in February when she lifted the mandate.
Kelly Garcia, the director of the Iowa Department of Public Health, announced some changes are coming to the state's data reporting at coronavirus.iowa.gov, though among them is not a return to more frequent data reporting.
While acknowledging there are many calls for the state to resume data reporting on a more regular basis, Garcia said her office will continue to report most data weekly, but will begin reporting more comprehensive data.
Among the new data will be the percentage of hospitalized Iowans that are vaccinated or not. The state will also display vaccine data from the Centers for Disease Control alongside Iowa data. And the homepage will be reshaped again to show quick data points that are relevant.
Additionally, the state will share social media updates on Mondays, Wednesdays and Friday.
"It is our goal to highlight the critical information Iowans want more frequently," Garcia said. "But this approach and frequency also allow more time for our data team to ensure the accuracy of that deeper level of information."