CORONAVIRUS

More COVID-19 patients than ever are in Iowa hospitals

Gov. Kim Reynolds says health care system can handle surge

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds updates the state's response to the coronavirus outbreak during a news conference, Tuesday, Sept.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds updates the state's response to the coronavirus outbreak during a news conference, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020, in Johnston, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

JOHNSTON — Now seven months since the first COVID-19 cases were confirmed in the state, more patients than ever are being treated for the virus in Iowa hospitals as the disease reaches alarming levels in rural communities.

As of Wednesday morning, Iowa hospitals reported currently treating 444 patients for novel coronavirus symptoms. That eclipses the previous peak set May 6 when 417 Iowans were hospitalized during the first wave of the virus.

The two-week average of new admissions continued to soar, reaching 61.2. The previous high was 39.6 in early May.

Despite the spikes, the member of patients currently seriously ill with the virus — those in intensive care or on ventilators to help breathe — remains below the summer highs, though they are ticking upward.

In a news conference Wednesday at the Iowa PBS studios, Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds said Iowa’s health care providers are telling her they are not overwhelmed by patients or running low on personal protective equipment.

Reynolds said her staff is in constant touch with health care leaders across the state, and praised health care companies for their collaborative work in addressing the pandemic. She said those systems have plans for surges like the one Iowa is experiencing, and she said no hospitals in the state have had to turn away patients.

“This is disappointing news, and sadly it’s what can happen when we are experiencing community spread,” Reynolds said of the hospitalizations. “Even though the number of Iowans hospitalized is the highest it’s been, we’ve not approached the peak of our hospital capacity. Our health care system in Iowa is strong, and for that we are grateful.”

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Roughly 35 percent of inpatient beds across the state are available, and 432 intensive care beds remain open, according to state public health data. The number of available ICU beds has never dropped below 340 during the pandemic, according to the state.

The worst of the COVID-19 pandemic in Iowa appears — at least for now — to have moved from college campuses like those in Iowa City and Ames to more rural pockets, particularly in northwest Iowa.

As of Wednesday, the state’s highest positivity rate was in Lyon County, the most northwest county in Iowa on the South Dakota and Minnesota borders. Its two-week average positive case rate was 31.5 percent, according to state calculations.

Anything over 10 percent — the rate of all COVID-19 tests that come back positive — concerns public health officials.

Just to the south, Sioux County’s two-week average rate is 24.8 percent, and just to the east, O’Brien County is at 18.3 percent and Osceola County is at 17.2 percent.

Traveling south along the Missouri River, Plymouth County is at 15.2 percent and Woodbury at 14.8 percent.

Overall, according to state calculations, 20 of the 28 counties in Iowa’s northwest quadrant have two-week average rates of 10 percent or more.

See more Iowa coronavirus charts and maps

“It’s indicative, I think, of what we’ve seen with community spread, Reynolds said. ”It’s more general population.”

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Southwest Iowa also reports some high rates, with Taylor County at 22.1, Page at 21.2 and Fremont at 19 percent.

At the same time, virus activity appears to be slowing in other areas of Iowa, including its most populous counties.

Polk, Story, Linn, Black Hawk and Johnson counties all have two-week average positive case rates of under 6.5 percent, according to the state’s calculations.

Roughly a month ago, those counties had much higher rates as cases spiked after college students returned to campus for the fall semester.

In response to the surging cases, Reynolds ordered bars in six counties closed, and kept bars in Johnson and Story counties closed longer — for over five weeks — even after the counties reported lower positivity rates than those seen now in northwest Iowa.

Reynolds said no additional mitigation steps are needed now in Iowa, evoking the words of President Donald Trump.

“We can’t let COVID-19 dominate our lives,” she said.

Iowa continues to have the fourth-highest positivity rate in the nation at 16.82 percent, according to an Associated Press analysis of Johns Hopkins University data.

Public health figures show Iowa added 908 new cases of COVID-19 in the 24-hour period that ended at 11 a.m. Wednesday. That brings the states’ total number of positive cases to 94,356 so far.

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Additionally, the state reported 14 new deaths in 13 counties during the period, bringing Iowa’s death toll because of the virus to 1,414.

According to the data, Sioux County reported two deaths while Black Hawk, Clinton, Dallas, Dubuque, Emmet, Guthrie, Hancock, Lee, Lyon, Tama, Wapello and Woodbury counties reported one death each.

Linn County added 47 new cases, bringing the county’s total to 4,483. Johnson County added 24 cases for a total 5,320.

Cases continue to rise among children and employees in the education sector, according to the state data.

Eighty-three new cases were reported in the 24-hour period among children up to age 17 and 51 new cases were reported among education workers, bringing the total number of children infected in the state to 8,016 and the total number of cases among those employed in the education field to 4,340.

The Associated Press and John McGlothlen and Kat Russell of The Gazette contributed to this report.

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