116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
As the number of COVID-19 patients in Iowa hospital beds and intensive care units continues to climb to levels not seen since the worst of the pandemic a year ago, local health experts forecast a trying winter as flu season only complicates a spreading disease.
According to data released Wednesday by the Iowa Department of Public Health, 777 people were hospitalized in the state as a result of the coronavirus. The last time hospitalizations were that high was Dec. 15, 2020, when 798 patients were admitted.
In just the latest 24-hour period measured, 133 COVID-19 patients were admitted to Iowa hospitals — the highest since 141 on Dec. 8, 2020.
Wednesday’s weekly report also stated the number of patients in intensive care rose to 185, and those on ventilators to help breathe inched up to 98 — both the highest levels since early December 2020.
Those not fully vaccinated accounted for 84.3 percent of COVID-19 patients in intensive care, an increase from the 77.9 percent reported last week. Those not fully vaccinated account for 73.8 percent of all patients hospitalized in the state because of COVID-19.
Local hospitals prepare for winter-long surge
As of Wednesday, 49 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized in Linn County facilities, with a seven-day admission rate average of about five patients a day, according to the county public health department.
Both Cedar Rapids hospitals — Mercy Medical Center and UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s Hospital — say hospitalization rates have been trending upward.
Mercy has had a “fairly stable" trend of infected patients recently, said Dr. Tony Myers, chief medical officer. The hospital had 25 COVID-19 patients as of Tuesday.
Myers noted he is seeing fewer vaccinated patients admitted for the virus now that the booster dose has became widely available to the public, following a change in federal guidelines this past month.
As of Tuesday, about 35 percent of St. Luke’s inpatient census was made up of COVID-19 patients. A couple of weeks ago, it was about 25 percent, said Dr. Dustin Arnold, chief medical officer.
About 96 percent of St. Luke’s critical care units and 92 percent of the general medical floor is full at this time, prompting health care officials to take steps to create more space for the anticipated increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations this winter. Arnold said that could include transferring patients out of the facility or limiting elective surgeries in the coming days.
St. Luke’s is preparing not just for a one-time surge in patients, but a continued high patient census all winter as a result of COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses, such as influenza, spreading throughout the community.
“I think it’s going to be like this all winter,” Arnold said.
Myers and Arnold encourage fully vaccinated individuals — particularly if they are at risk for severe disease — to get a booster shot as soon as possible.
The state reported 13,039 new cases of COVID-19 over this past week, an increase from the 9,489 reported last week.
Iowa’s positivity rate for the past seven days was 12.3 percent, an increase from 11.9 percent last week. The state’s positivity rate is currently higher than the nationwide average, which is 8 percent, according to the Washington Post COVID-19 tracker.
Since the virus first appeared in March 2020, 542,422 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Iowa.
Among the positive tests statewide over this past week, those between the ages of 18 and 29 made up the largest share at 19 percent. Previously, those aged 17 and younger had held the top share for several months. The percentage of new cases by age group in the past week was:
- Up to 17: 18 percent
- 18 to 29: 19 percent
- 30 to 39: 18 percent
- 40 to 49: 14 percent
- 50 to 59: 14 percent
- 60 to 69: 10 percent
- 70 to 79: 5 percent
- 80 and over: 2 percent
Linn County reported 1,034 new infections this week, an increase from the 722 reported last week. The positivity rate was 14.2 percent, compared with the 12.9 percent last week.
Johnson County reported 476 new cases this week, an increase from the 369 last week. The positivity rate inched up to 10 percent, from 9.7 percent last week.
All 99 counties in Iowa are at the maximum “red zone” level of community transmission, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Statewide, an additional 27,619 individuals became fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in the past week.
That brings the total number of people fully vaccinated in Iowa to 1,717,773, which represents 54.44 percent of the state’s population, or 58.04 percent of Iowans aged 5 and older.
The state public health department also reported booster doses in its coronavirus data this week. As of Wednesday, 619,459 boosters shots have been administered in Iowa since August. In the past seven days, an additional 4,486 boosters were distributed.
Linn County reported an additional 2,043 individuals became fully vaccinated, bringing the total number of vaccinated residents to 137,455. That accounts for 64.65 percent of those aged 5 and older and 60.63 percent of the total county population.
In Johnson County, an additional 2,811 residents completed a COVID-19 vaccine series. That brings the total number of fully vaccinated residents to 98,868, or about 69.41 percent of those aged 5 and older and 65.41 percent of the county’s population.
Iowa public health officials reported 105 newly confirmed deaths from the virus since the last report, bringing the statewide death toll since March 2020 to 7,550. Last week, the state confirmed 91 new COVID-19 deaths.
State officials did not include data on the age group of this week’s confirmed death toll, nor did they provide information on when those deaths occurred.
Polk County reported the highest COVID-19 death toll with 15 deaths. Scott and Woodbury counties followed with six deaths each, then Black Hawk and Pottawattamie counties with five deaths each.
As of Wednesday, 17 long-term care facilities in Iowa were reporting a coronavirus outbreak — that is, three or more COVID-19 cases among staff and residents. Last week, 19 facilities reported outbreaks.
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John McGlothlen of The Gazette contributed to this report.