Des Moines Register. Nov. 17, 2020

Iowa and its hospitals are at a perilous stage, ER doctor says

Instead of throwing more workers into the breach, how about turning off the faucet with mitigation measures to reduce transmission?

On Monday morning Des Moines Register editorial writer Andie Dominick caught up again with Dr. Tom Benzoni, a local emergency room physician. We have interviewed him more than a dozen times since the novel coronavirus pandemic hit Iowa.

Here are previous installments from March 31, April 28, May 12, May 26, June 8, June 21, July 1, July 18, Aug. 10, Aug. 24, Sept. 11 and Oct. 30.

Here are edited excerpts from our Nov. 16 conversation:

COVID-19 hospitalizations are at an all-time high in Iowa and some hospitals are “at capacity.” What does that look like?

Health care workers are trying so hard to care for the patients in front of them, they may not see the big picture until it’s too late. A hospital won’t say it’s “at capacity” until it’s past capacity.

What does it look like? There may be a patient admitted a day ago who is still in the ER because there’s not an open inpatient bed. If there’s not a bed upstairs, there’s not a bed upstairs. There is only so much space. Meanwhile, smaller hospitals overwhelmed by the number and complexity of cases are sending patients to larger hospitals, further clogging a full emergency room.

People could be in the waiting room six to eight hours. Then you’ve got someone from a car accident coming in. Car wrecks and heart attacks and strokes are still happening while the hospital deteriorates.

Do most people coming to the ER need to be there?

There is a spectrum of people coming in. Some are very sick. And some are just plain scared because they received a COVID diagnosis. They have a positive test and symptoms and were told if they felt sick to go to to the ER. They need someone to reassure them.

Gov. Kim Reynolds recently announced more money for hospitals. Does that help?

You can have all the money you want, but you need staff to spend the money on. Our staff are getting sick and dying. Instead of throwing more people into the breach, how about turning off the faucet?

By the way, time is not money. This is a fallacy. Time is time. Money is money. All the money in the world won’t buy you more time if you’re dying.

Should the governor issue a mask mandate?

Yes. Iowa should have a mask mandate. It should be as unacceptable to be without a mask in public as it is to be without pants. (Hours after this interview, Reynolds ordered Iowans to wear masks in certain circumstances, restricted sports and recreational activities and limited hours for some businesses.)

What about closing some things down?

I don’t have the governor’s authority, responsibility or job. But a hard stop would actually get the economy back on track sooner. Stop the spread so people aren’t afraid to go out. A quick, hard lockdown means anything that does not need to be done is not done.

How much worse do you think it will get in Iowa?

You ain’t seen nothing yet. It’s going to get much worse, absent any action. You’re not going to make the virus go away, but you can change human behavior to mitigate spread.

Someone recently said to me there was a lack of “evidence” opening schools has contributed to spread. How you do respond to that?

There are three possibilities for the impact of in-person learning on spread of the virus: Negative impact, neutral or no effect, and positive impact.

Negative impact, as in inhibiting spread of the virus? That makes no sense. Throw that out. Bringing people together does not inhibit spread of a contagious disease.

No effect? That’s illogical but you can study it and prepare to accept the results of those studies.

Then there’s positive effect, that infected children infect uninfected children and adults. Of course they do. We know this. Children contract the virus. They have few symptoms and they spread it.

Am I right in feeling more nervous about contracting the virus now than I was a month ago?

Yes. The likelihood of getting infected in the next couple weeks is exponentially higher than it was a month ago because there are many more people with COVID.

We aren’t going near crowds. We are staying away from people on sidewalks and are conscious of wind direction. I’m cleaning cart handles at the grocery store, staying distant from people and only going once a week or once every two weeks.

Any other thoughts?

Don’t let your Thanksgiving become a super-spreader event. Don’t share air. Half of people able to transmit this virus don’t have any symptoms. If you want to know what someone with COVID looks like, look in the mirror.


Fort Dodge Messenger. Nov. 19, 2020

Grassley is voting record-holder in U.S. Senate

His long record of service to Iowans is remarkable

Iowans are well aware that U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley is a hard worker. The fact that he visits all 99 Iowa counties every year is ample evidence of that.

But few probably know that Grassley, a Republican, is a record-holder within the United States Senate.

He holds the record for the longest length of time without missing a vote in the history of the Senate.

Since 1993, he has cast 8,927 votes on the floor of the Senate.

He has not missed a vote in the Senate since 1993.

Grassley actually broke the record for going the longest time without missing a vote in January 2016, and kept on voting for another four years.

COVID-19 broke his streak on Tuesday. After learning he had been exposed to COVID-19, Grassley stayed away from the Senate that day and was tested for the virus. He announced on Tuesday evening that he had tested positive, He is now quarantining, although he has no symptoms.

A day in the Senate without Grassley is so rare that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, felt compelled to comment on it. He described Grassley’s absence as ”something so unusual that only a few of us current senators had ever seen it before.”

There is a lot more to being a senator than voting, but casting votes on the bills and nominees that come before the Senate is the crux of the job. That is when senators truly act on behalf of those who elected them.

Iowans may disagree with some of the votes Grassley casts, but they cannot question his dedication to the job. He approaches the task with the work ethic of the Iowa farmer that he is.

We thank Grassley for his long stretch of working on behalf of Iowans. We look forward to him returning to the floor of the Senate and casting more votes.


Dubuque Telegraph Herald. Nov. 22, 2020

Overcoming learning loss calls for community effort

These days, parents, teachers and administrators are just trying to get through the school year, day by day, as safely as possible.

That has meant rewriting plans for nearly every aspect of educating, pivoting to online learning and juggling hybrid classrooms. It’s hard to imagine that things could get more challenging than 2020.

But once the pandemic is in the rear-view mirror, another issue will loom: the deficit of learning and its impacts on students.

We already know that students learn at different rates and start out school at different levels of preparedness. Additionally, summer slide is a well-documented phenomenon in which kids — particularly those who aren’t inclined to spend a lot of time reading — take steps backward in their progress.

So, the impact of the pandemic will hit kids differently. But experts already foresee that children of low-income families and people of color will be disproportionately affected.

That’s a particular problem when these are demographics that are already struggling to keep pace with their advantaged peers. Making up the ground of learning loss will be a key strategy for tri-state communities in the next few years, and it will require resources and commitment from multiple stakeholders.

The Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque is already out front on this. The foundation will roll out a new project in the coming months to help address the learning losses that kids are experiencing.

The idea brings together partners, including St. Mark Youth Enrichment, Dubuque Dream Center and Every Child Reads, to focus on building awareness of and expanding access to resources around social-emotional learning and trauma-informed care. The goal is to ensure everyone who impacts children’s lives understands how to best help them learn and grow.

That will require collaboration from many and varied aspects of the community.

Similarly, summer enrichment programs will become all the more vital. It will be a time to rethink old routines and drum up new ideas.

Some of that is already happening.

University of Dubuque, Clarke University and Loras College education students are offering virtual tutoring sessions to local elementary students. Children get help with their schoolwork, and college education students get experience teaching. That’s just one among many programs stepping in to provide tutoring and academic support during a school year marked by the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

There is room for much more help. Mentors, tutors, after-school programs and summer helpers all can contribute to a community effort to make up lost ground.

We know that in myriad aspects, the impact of the pandemic will be felt for years to come. With strategic planning, resources and many volunteers, broadening gaps in education does not have to be one of those aspects.