IOWA CITY — More patients were being treated for COVID-19 in Iowa hospitals — and more people in the state died from the disease — in a 24-hour period ending Wednesday than since the novel coronavirus was confirmed here over seven months ago.
The surge in hospitalizations in Iowa and several other states is troubling to public health officials not only because it raises concerns over the availability of beds and equipment, but because a rising number of patients indicates mitigation efforts are lacking.
Iowa set a record of 534 hospitalizations in a 24-hour period ending at 11 a.m. Wednesday. That eclipsed a record set in the 24-hour period just the day before.
In addition, Iowa public health officials reported a record of 32 COVID-19 deaths in the 24-hour period, with deaths spanning 20 counties including Linn.
Moreover, Iowa’s positive rate — the percentage of people tested for the infection who prove positive — worsened during the 24-hour period, hitting 21.61 percent.
“A horrific day in Iowa from coronavirus. ... Please mourn the dead, care for the sick, support loved ones and caregivers, and help stop the spread,” tweeted state Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids.
Unionized University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics workers issued a joint statement Wednesday calling on local and state leaders to make battling the pandemic their top priority.
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“Iowa marked a grim milestone yesterday,” according to the statement from AFSCME Local 12, representing 2,000-plus UIHC workers, and SEIU Local 199, which represents about 4,000 UIHC nurses and other health care professionals.
“For the first time since the coronavirus hit our state, more than 500 patients were in Iowa hospitals being treated for COVID-19,” they said in the statement. “Our members at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics have seen firsthand how devastating this illness can be.”
Of those hospitalized in the period, 134 COVID-19 patients were in intensive care, up from 122. And four more patients were on ventilators to help breathe, an increase to 49 from 45.
While the total number of COVID-19 patients set records for two consecutive days, the rise of those in intensive care and on ventilators did not set records.
The state said Iowa hospitals still had 370 ICU beds and 786 ventilators available as of Wednesday.
In their statement, UI health care workers highlighted the growing tally of UIHC employees who have tested positive — which reached 637 to date, including four who were added Tuesday.
“We and all workers on the front lines of the fight against COVID need Iowa’s leaders to step up and provide the personal protective equipment and the resources necessary for us to care for Iowa,” the statement said.
UIHC on Wednesday reported having 23 adult COVID-19 inpatients, caring for a total of 621 since the pandemic arrived in Iowa in March. It doesn’t currently have any pediatric patients, although it has admitted 32 coronavirus patients under 18 so far.
UIHC has screened patients for COVID-19 over 52,891 video and telephone visits to date, including 336 on Tuesday. It’s tabulated a total of 64,759 visits to its influenza-like-illness clinic, which it built in the spring in response to COVID-19, including 546 Tuesday.
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The UIHC employees cited a state audit this week finding that Gov. Kim Reynolds wrongly directed $20 million of federal coronavirus aid to a state computer system. The state auditor and a federal inspector general both said the expenditure was not allowed, but Reynolds said Wednesday she would try to convince them it was proper.
If still not allowed, the money would need to be refunded or redeployed.
“We need those funds for patients, not computers,” the unionized UIHC employees wrote. “Together, we’re calling on Gov. Reynolds and every elected official in Iowa to promise that they will make the lives of Iowa’s patients their number one priority.”
In total, Iowa added 1,300 new COVID-19 cases in the period, bringing its total to 109,634.
Linn County reported 74 new cases, the second highest 24-hour tally since the pandemic’s start, bringing its case total to 5,133.
Johnson County, home to the UI, added 20 cases, bringing its total to 5,669. Story County, home to Iowa State University, added 18 cases for a total 3,879; and Black Hawk County, home to the University of Northern Iowa, added 73 cases for 5,283 total.
Among school age children up to age 17, Iowa added 136 cases Wednesday, bringing that group’s total to 9,572.
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Kat Russell and Katie Brumbeloe of The Gazette contributed.
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