DES MOINES, IOWA — Polk County residents are again being asked to wear masks indoors – whether or not you’ve been vaccinated – as the highly contagious delta variant of COVID-19 spreads across the state. On Monday, local health officials reported the CDC now considers Polk County an area of high transmission of COVID-19 and asks residents to put on a mask before heading indoors.
“We ask that residents follow CDC guidance and, vaccinated or unvaccinated, start wearing masks in indoor public spaces again,” Helen Eddy, Director of Polk County Health, announced on Monday afternoon at a news conference in Des Moines.
“I haven’t seen polio, we haven’t treated polio in 50 years. Because of vaccinations. That is the only way we are going to get rid of COVID and keep it from controlling our communities.”Dr. Tracy Eckhardt, MD
The warning from federal health officials comes just weeks before Iowa kids head back to classrooms. Under a state law passed in the closing hours of last session, no public school can mandate that masks be worn. That would make enforcing the CDC guidelines illegal in Iowa schools, no matter the infection rate in the state. With kids under 12 unable to be vaccinated and schools banned from enforcing public health recommendations, Eddy says all Iowans need to get their shots to protect those kids – and everyone else.
“COVID-19 is spreading because more Polk County residents need to be vaccinated and mask use has waned,” said Eddy, “If you remain unvaccinated, you will get COVID. The only question is how sick you will become.”
Local physicians from across the metro’s multiple health systems joined Eddy to tell Iowans there is no good reason that anyone who can be vaccinated is not. The urgency for Iowans to get vaccinated has increased with the delta variant’s arrival in Iowa. The new mutation spreads much faster than the original virus that caused the pandemic last year.
“If you are sitting beside someone who is carrying this virus and you are unmasked, you are certain to inhale the virus and get sick, especially if you are not vaccinated,” said Dr. Aneesa Afroze from MercyOne Des Moines, “The viral load in the body if someone gets infected with delta virus is 1000x the amount in the alpha variant.”
Dr. Tracy Eckhardt, the Chief Medical Officer for UnityPoint Health Des Moines, says the surge caused by the delta variant can be seen every day in Iowa hospitals. She says that a few weeks ago there were just seven COVID-19 patients across the metro. Over the weekend there were 19 new COVID-19 cases admitted. That includes the first pediatric case in nearly one month in the metro, according to Dr. Eckhardt.
Dr. Eckhardt says the common-sense effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine – and all vaccines – can be seen in a simple narrative: “We know that the only way to fix this and to combat it is vaccinations,” says Dr. Eckhardt, “Blank Children’s Hospital was built as a polio hospital. We don’t treat polio anymore. I haven’t seen polio, we haven’t treated polio in 50 years. Because of vaccinations. That is the only way we are going to get rid of COVID and keep it from controlling our communities.”
“If you are sitting are sitting beside someone who is carrying this virus and you are unmasked you are certain to inhale the virus and get sick, especially if you are not vaccinated”Dr. Aneesa Afroze, MD