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The number of people being treated for COVID-19 in Iowa hospitals set a record Thursday - for the fourth day in a row - as federal public health officials again implored the state to more aggressively respond to the worsening threat.
According to state public health data analyzed at 11 a.m. Thursday, 605 people were being treated for COVID-19 in Iowa hospitals - more than at any time since the disease was confirmed here in March.
The state had not updated its county-by-county hospitalizations, but the northeast Iowa region that includes Linn County showed 135 virus patients hospitalized with 891 total beds available, and the southeast Iowa region that includes Johnson County showed 263 virus patients hospitalized and over 1,000 beds still available.
'Only 11 percent of all current hospitalizations across the state are related to COVID-19,” said a statement provided to The Gazette from Pat Garrett, spokesman for Gov. Kim Reynolds. 'Of those hospitalized with the virus, more than 70 percent are over the age of 60. Treatment for COVID-19 has improved significantly since earlier this year. New therapeutics such as Remdesivir and other treatments have helped reduce the severity of illness and shorten hospital stays for many patients.”
Of the record 605 COVID-19 patients, the number in intensive care inched down from 136 to 135 Thursday, but the number using ventilators to help breathe rose from 51 to 56.
In the statement, the governor's office said that it is in regular contact with health systems around the state.
'At this time, hospitals are reporting that they are able to manage the increased number of patients, and are prepared to implement surge plans to expand capacity if necessary,” the statement said.
Vice President Mike Pence, who leads the White House Coronavirus Task Force, held a campaign rally Thursday in Des Moines where he made note of 'the steady, the strong and compassionate leadership” of Reynolds during the pandemic, including launching the Test Iowa Initiative and ramping up the supply of protective gear for hospital workers.
The task force that Pence leads, however, continued this week to push for more aggressive steps to contain Iowa's worsening case counts than Reynolds has been willing to take.
A White House task force report said that 97 percent of Iowa is now in a hot zone, measured by the number of cases per capita and the percentage of tests that confirm the infection.
The task force said that as of Sunday, 56 of Iowa's 99 counties were in the worst 'red zone” of danger, an increase of seven counties in a week.
It said another 21 counties were in the next-worse 'orange zone” and another 19 in the 'yellow zone.”
'Mitigation efforts must be increased to control community spread to include mask wearing, physical distancing, hand hygiene, and avoiding crowds in public and specifically, social gatherings in private,” Pence's task force wrote.
'We are finding that as the weather cools, friends and families are moving social gatherings indoors, significantly increasing spread,” the task force reported, as such social gatherings are likely to become even more common as the holidays near.
The report pointed out the rising number of COVID-19 hospitalizations in Iowa and the 'potential resource constraints” the trend could cause if not checked.
According to the report, most Iowa hospitals have between seven and 30 days worth of protective gear such as N95 masks, surgical gowns and gloves on hand.
It was against this backdrop that the state reported another 2,468 new COVID-19 cases in a 24-hour period ending at 11 a.m. Thursday - its second-highest ever. The new cases bring Iowa's total to 121,994 so far.
Iowa's positivity rate over the period - the percentage of tests run that prove positive - was a whopping 31.83 percent, far higher than the 5 percent threshold for action advised by federal health officials.
Of those new cases, Linn County reported 193 - a record high for the county by far. Its seven-day average of cases also was a record high at 105, and its positivity rate was 29.88 percent.
Johnson County added 70 new virus cases.
The state also reported 11 more deaths due to the disease Thursday morning. The counties of Adams, Black Hawk, Dubuque, Johnson, Lee, Pottawattamie, Union and Woodbury each recorded one. Dallas County recorded three. That brings the state's virus death toll to 1,691.
According to the White House report, Iowa had 254 new cases per 100,000 population in the week ending Oct. 24, compared with the national average of 133.
Along with case counts, Iowa was in the red zone for COVID-19 deaths as well. The state had 96 confirmed COVID-19 deaths in that time, according to White House data, which equates to three deaths per 100,000 people. Iowa's deadly number is almost double the national average of 1.7 per 100,000.
The task force report lists these Iowa counties as in the 'red zone”: Dubuque, Woodbury, Pottawattamie, Black Hawk, Sioux, Des Moines, Plymouth, Carroll, Harrison, Delaware, Muscatine, Crawford, Mahaska, Buena Vista, Henry, Jackson, O'Brien, Cass, Marion, Iowa, Cedar, Boone, Tama, Dickinson, Marshall, Clay, Kossuth, Hardin, Bremer, Lyon, Winnebago, Jones, Buchanan, Humboldt, Cherokee, Wright, Monroe, Allamakee, Osceola, Adair, Palo Alto, Jefferson, Taylor, Decatur, Appanoose, Louisa, Clarke, Fremont, Grundy, Chickasaw, Montgomery, Pocahontas, Van Buren, Audubon, Lucas and Adams.
It lists these as in the 'orange zone”: Polk, Scott, Dallas, Webster, Clinton, Lee, Benton, Jasper, Page, Mills, Emmet, Hamilton, Fayette, Winneshiek, Guthrie, Sac, Calhoun, Butler, Howard, Monona and Franklin.
And it lists these as in the 'yellow zone”: Linn, Story, Cerro Gordo, Warren, Wapello, Washington, Clayton, Poweshiek, Madison, Hancock, Shelby, Union, Greene, Floyd, Ida, Mitchell, Davis, Keokuk and Worth.
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Rod Boshart and John McGlothlen of The Gazette contributed.