Xavier Becerra in Des Moines. (Photo from Congresswoman Axne’s office)

A top health official in the Biden Administration is urging more Iowans to get COVID shots. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra visited Des Moines Thursday, a day after state officials confirmed 42 Iowans had died of COVID in the past four weeks.

Becerra said 99% of the Americans who are dying of the virus are unvaccinated. “I don’t know if that fact that can amplified more,” Becerra said, “but if you don’t believe what’s going on go to the hospitals, to the ICU rooms or, worse, go to the morgues and see the people who are dying from Covid.”

State officials report just under 49% of Iowa residents had been fully vaccinated by the middle of this week. Becerra stopped short of saying businesses should mandate vaccinations for employees, but he said employers should do what they believe is necessary to protect their workforce against COVID-19.

“I would want to see every employer have a safe workplace — for their employees and for their patrons and I believe they should do everything the law permits them to do to make sure we’re all safe,” Becerra said, “because if you’re not safe, I’m not safe.”

Data released this week by the Iowa Department of Public Health shows the number of Covid cases in Iowa has risen to levels not seen since January and the number of COVID patients in Iowa hospitals has increased 20% in the past week. About eight out of 10 of those patients have not been vaccinated.

(By Natalie Krebs, Iowa Public Radio)