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USPS carriers led a procession for retired postman, Iowa native Mel Stahmer, who died at the age 68 after recently contracting the disease.

Iowa City Press-Citizen

A dozen eastern Iowa health care workers gathered on the lawn outside the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics Wednesday night to honor the thousands of their colleagues around the world who’ve lost their lives to COVID-19.

“We’ve lost a lot of brothers and sisters — union brothers and sisters — to the COVID-19 virus,” said Cathy Glasson, president of SEIU Local 199. “We haven’t necessarily lost any health care workers that I know of here at (UIHC) … but we wanted to recognize the loss of front-line and essential workers making our lives better.”

The health care union’s local chapter hosted the candlelight vigil to reflect on, honor and pray for essential workers who have died over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. A number that, according to a July report from Amnesty International, consists of at least 3,000 health care workers globally, including 10 Iowans, according to state data.

A vigil to remember the lost

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The gathering also represented a chance for health care workers to call on U.S. Sens. Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley, both Republicans, to pass the $3 trillion Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act.

Among other points, the HEROES Act would authorize hazard pay “for staff working directly to prevent and mitigate the spread of coronavirus” and support for other essential workers having to interact directly with those who have COVID-19. The provision was passed in the House in May.

“That bill would help thousands of people,” Glasson said. “It would help local communities and state government with financial woes due to the pandemic, but most importantly for us tonight, it would make sure front line essential workers have access to PPE.”

“We lift up our senators, also: Joni Ernst and Charles Grassley” recited Pat Bowen, reading from a transcript composed by the Rev. Julia Rendon from Indianola’s Crossroads United Church of Christ. “May they have the strength to do what is right despite the toxic political environment they inhabit.”

► More: We have to commit town and gown to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Iowa City

Iowa City Councilor and former UIHC employee Pauline Taylor and family of the late Mel Stahmer — a Coralville postman who died last week from COVID-19 — were also in attendance and spoke that evening.

“Mel passed last week and, of course, I was always concerned about COVID, had pushed the council to do the mask mandate,” Taylor told the Press-Citizen regarding her friend of 35 years. “When he passed last week, it just hit so close to home that I thought I had to speak up even stronger.”

To the crowd, Taylor described Stahmer as a man who “always had a smile on his face and didn’t have an enemy in the world until he was fighting for his life against the worse enemy of all: COVID-19.”

► Iowa Mourns: Coralville postman remembered for his commitment to community, fair labor

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For Taylor, the importance of advocating for more people to take the virus more seriously has also been heightened by the recent surge in cases that accompanied the return to students to the University of Iowa campus.

After all the work the city and county have done to require masks, Taylor expressed frustration at seeing people on the street in downtown Iowa City without masks, for which she had at least a partial solution.

“I think I’m going to make it a point to keep them a bunch (of masks) in my purse,” Taylor said. “Rather than scold (people not wearing them), teach them.”

► The latest, Wednesday: Southeast Iowa reaches new high in COVID-19 hospitalizations; Johnson County sees nearly 100 new cases in 24 hours

► ‘The onus is on you’: Iowa City-area officials speak out Wednesday, urging compliance with public health measures

Dana, the data whiz

Dana Jones, a University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics nurse practitioner, speaks during a candlelight vigil for workers who have died during the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020, outside the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics (UIHC) in Iowa City, Iowa. Jones uncovered a glitch in Iowa Department of Public Health data had caused some recent COVID-19 test results to be recorded as happening months earlier. (Photo: Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen)

Dana Jones, the Iowa City nurse practitioner who uncovered an error on Iowa’s coronavirus data website that lowered the number of new confirmed cases, downplaying the severity of the outbreak, was also in attendance at Wednesday’s vigil.

“The HEROES Act is important to me,” Jones told the Press-Citizen. “I think about March and how scary it was and how uncertain it was in March.”

She recalled how low on supplies so many were and remembered that her mother had made her a face mask to wear to work. Though she said UIHC is currently not currently struggling with its supplies, that has not consistently been the case across the nation.

“There’s no excuse for us to be in that same position in August — we shouldn’t have to reuse a mask to be in a better position,” Jones said. “I really think, as far as PPE goes, we have work to do.”

Jones pointed to hospitals having to reuse N95 respirators, as a problem still needing to be solved. Though built for a single-use, the CDC has released guidance on how to wring multiple uses from these pieces of PPE for medical staff. While workable in a pandemic, the strategy is not ideal, officials say.

Jones is also still not confident in the state’s reporting of cases of COVID-19 across Iowa.

Her recently reported discovery demonstrated that new cases of COVID-19 were being downplayed in the state’s reporting, showing up as having occurred in prior months. Though corrected numbers have been released, Jones says she’s still seen changes.

“Boy did it ever change,” Jones said of the updated figures. “Everything was completely different. It’s like rewriting history, everything moved. Everything — even the beginning of the pandemic. They had the first case on March 9 prior to the fix, now, it’s March 7, so a lot changed, and it’s continuing to change.”

She said she’s sent another question through the public health portal, but she’s not sure she’ll get a response. While she said she feels relatively safe going to work, she said she still feels dubious about how possibly still flawed figures could influence things like Iowa’s and local school districts’ Return-to-Learn plans, among other policies.

“I’m relying on the experts,” Jones said. “They’re building modeling based on the numbers being documented, and if their numbers that aren’t any good, the models aren’t any good. So we really have no ground to stand on, and that’s a scary thing to have in the middle of a pandemic.”

Isaac Hamlet covers arts, entertainment and culture at the Press-Citizen. Reach him at ihamlet@press-citizen.com or (319)-688-4247, follow him on Twitter @IsaacHamlet.

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