OTTUMWA — Iowa’s Governor and other lawmakers are speaking out against new mask guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as COVID-19 cases continue to grow.
The CDC this week announced new recommendations for mask-wearing, including recommending that even fully vaccinated individuals wear masks in some situations. The new guidance recommends vaccinated individuals in counties with high or substantial transmission rates wear masks when indoors outside their home.
Of Courier-area counties, only Jefferson County would be exempt from that recommendation. The CDC considers Appanoose County an area with a substantial transmission rate, and Wapello, Monroe, Davis and Van Buren all have high transmission rates.
More than two-thirds of counties in the United States fall in the high or substantial rate categories. Just more than 1% of Americans are in counties with low rates.
Officials acknowledge that vaccinated individuals can still contract the coronavirus. Though, most hospitalizations and nearly all deaths due to COVID-19 recently are in people not vaccinated.
“I think the most important thing to understand is the vaccines continue to do an exceptional job in protecting the individual who is vaccinated from severe illness, hospitalization and death, and even against mild illness as we have indicated,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, Tuesday.
What’s not yet understood is just how easily a vaccinated person can transmit the virus to others.
“What is different with the Delta variant than the Alpha cases is that in those rare cases that we have breakthrough infections, we felt it important for people to understand that they have the potential to transmit virus to others,” Walensky said. “Of the transmission that is happening in the country right now, the vast majority of transmission occurring is occurring through unvaccinated individuals.”
Iowa added an average of about 391 new coronavirus cases per day in the week ending Tuesday, continuing a trend of growth so far in July.
Nine new cases were reported in Monroe County, which last week had the state’s highest positivity rate. This week, the county’s rate is lower but remains among the highest at 19%.
Davis County, which ranks last in the state for vaccination rate, had a positivity rate of 13% with 14 new cases in the last seven days.
Wapello County added 30 new cases of COVID-19, while Jefferson added 10 cases, Van Buren five and Appanoose four.
State data does not include information on whether individuals with recently confirmed positives of COVID-19 have had the vaccine or not.
Data provided by some local public health officials indicate most new cases are unvaccinated individuals. Monroe County Public Health last week posted to its Facebook page that from July 1-22 about 80% of its new cases were in unvaccinated individuals.
Jefferson leads the area in vaccinations, with about 38.8% of its population receiving all required doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. About 38.7% of Wapello residents have received their COVID-19 vaccinations.
The rate of vaccinations fall off steeply from there. Monroe has vaccinated 37.6%, Appanoose 37.2%, Van Buren 32.9% and Davis 29.3%.
Reynolds said the CDC’s new mask guidance sends the wrong message, while encouraging all Iowans to get vaccinated.
“I’m concerned that this guidance will be used as a vehicle to mandate masks in states and schools across the country, something I do not support,” Reynolds said in a statement. “The vaccine remains our strongest tool to combat COVID-19, which is why we are going to continue to encourage everyone to get the vaccine.”
U.S. Representative and Ottumwa doctor Mariannette Miller-Meeks, R-Iowa, shared a similar message on her Twitter Tuesday. “For months, I have been encouraging people to get vaccinated,” she wrote. “The CDC’s guidance that vaccinated individuals should wear a mask erodes confidence in the vaccine and makes it even more difficult for us to persuade those who are vaccine hesitant.”
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said the CDC has “poor public relations” because of conflicting opinions, that has led to credibility issues between the organization and Americans.
“It would be good if they would give this data, that’s so important backing it up, because they don’t have the credibility they ought to have,” Grassley said. “I don’t have any reason not to say they’re a credible organization, and that they do use science, but they sure have poor public relations.”