After eight months of fighting COVID-19 in Iowa, health care workers are exhausted — and they’re asking for the public’s help in curbing the spread in the virus as the pandemic surges to its highest level of infection yet. Key leaders from Iowa’s two largest private hospital systems joined Gov. Kim Reynolds during a late-morning press conference, with a message for Iowa residents. 

Dr. Hijinio Carreon, chief medical officer of MercyOne, with Dr. David Williams, chief clinical officer of UnityPoint Health, emphasized that health systems statewide are working together and have contingency plans in place to ensure patients are cared for. Their plea to Iowans: Slow the spread. The 14-day positivity rate in Iowa is currently 17%, meaning that 17% of people tested statewide tested positive for the virus. 

Both reiterated the message that public health officials have been repeating for months: Wear a mask, social distance, avoid large gatherings, wash or disinfect your hands often — and now during flu season, get a flu vaccination. 

“We are at a critical point in our state’s fight against COVID-19,” Carreon said. “It’s going to take every Iowan doing their part to get this virus under control. I’m asking you as an emergency department physician, as a father, and as a husband. Please protect your families, our community and our health care workers.” 

In addition to wearing masks and other preventive measures, “if you’re feeling sick, have pre-existing conditions or are concerned about the pandemic, virtual services are provided across our state attempting to keep you safe.” 

UnityPoint Health’s Williams added: “It’s time we have to start listening — the illness burden in our community, in our country is too high. And it’s time that we really buckle down, as the governor said, and start to do something about it.” 

Williams appealed to Iowans to consider how their actions affect health care workers statewide.

“My people — these health care workers throughout the state — are exceptional. And at this point they’re exhausted mentally and they’re exhausted physically,” he said. “It’s time to take care of the helpers.”

The governor’s office plans to launch a new public awareness campaign next week in an effort to address what Reynolds termed “COVID fatigue.”

“What is honestly happening is people are just experiencing pandemic fatigue,” Reynolds said. “They are wearing down and wearing out, and they want to get their lives back to normal.” 

Reynolds said the campaign will be an “extensive media reach” through local newspapers, radio stations and other local media. 

“As I traveled across the state, the two things I heard most often were ‘Keep my kids in school’ and ‘Keep my business open.’ It’s important that we’re able to do that, and so I’m going to,” she said. “We’re going to make a really extensive effort to remind people that they can help us do that.”