CORONAVIRUS

Grim projection shows over 700 Iowans will die from coronavirus by August

Study assumes government will take additional steps before peak

Stephanie Silva (left) of Iowa City has her temperature taken by Lynn Rhinehart (right), a guest services staff member a
Stephanie Silva (left) of Iowa City has her temperature taken by Lynn Rhinehart (right), a guest services staff member at a virus screening checkpoint outside the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City on Friday, March 13, 2020. Members of the public are asked whether they have been running a temperature, have a cough or have felt ill. They then have their temperature taken and receive a sticker letting staff know they have been screened. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

A new projection, from a study being cited by national health officials, shows 777 Iowans will die of COVID-19 through Aug. 4, with the peak of the outbreak hitting the state April 17.

This is according to state-specific estimates from the Institute for Health Metrics & Evaluation, a University of Washington program cited by White House coronavirus advisers this week as being in line with the Trump administration’s predictions.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the state reported a total of seven deaths so far related to the virus. While Iowa officials have provided the data points they look at in determining public policy, they have declined requests to provide projections of those indicators.

Gov. Kim Reynolds said she her administration has projected that Iowa’s COVID-19 outbreak should peak by mid- to late April but she declined to talk specifics.

“We’ve tried to put metrics in place that would start to flatten the curve so that we don’t overwhelm our hospital system; that we make sure that we have the beds and the (personal protective equipment) and the equipment that we need to take care of Iowans,” she said.

“We’re also working with the Department of Public Health in putting together metrics that will help us identify potentially what that peak may look like for Iowa and when that may occur so that we can start to monitor that and be prepared,” Reynolds added.

The White House coronavirus task force Tuesday gave the public the first look at its nationwide projection.

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It holds that even with social distancing, business and school closures, between 100,000 and 240,000 people in the United States will die because of the virus in the next few months.

As staggering as the projection is, the task force said it predicted there would be between 1.5 and 2 million deaths if there was no mitigation.

Based on the Institute for Health Metrics & Evaluation’s numbers, Iowa has enough hospital beds available (4,297) for the estimated number of COVID-19 patients who would need hospitalization (2,344). But the number of intensive care unit beds specifically that would be needed in Iowa would be 108 short.

Iowa has 283 invasive ventilators, but would need 292 at the peak of the outbreak, the institute estimates.

The projections, which can change daily, factor in state-mandated social distancing.

For example, Iowa’s estimates are higher than they otherwise might be because the institute has determined the state has not implemented any of four measures of social distancing, including ordering the closures of schools and non-essential services, ordering Iowans to shelter at home and severely limiting travel, said Dr. Abraham Flaxman, an associate professor of Health Metrics Sciences with the institute.

While Gov. Kim Reynolds on March 15 recommended schools close for a month, that is not considered a government order in the model, Flaxman told The Gazette.

“The key pieces for the way we are implementing this is being very strict about it having to be government-ordered closure,” he said. “It’s not enough that the schools decide on their own to close.”

Reynolds has ordered closures of many non-essential services and businesses, but it may not meet the definition used by the institute, Flaxman said.

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But the institute estimates do assume Iowa and other governments will implement further social distancing orders before the peak of COVID-19, Flaxman said.

“We still are assuming you will decide this is going to get bad and take additional steps,” he said. “It will make a difference in our predictions.”

Another set of projections, these from ProPublica, show the Cedar Rapids area would have enough hospital beds if only 20 percent of infected people need hospitalization and if those hospitalizations are spread over at least 12 months.

If more than 20 percent of the infected population needs to be hospitalized or if those severe illnesses occur more rapidly, Cedar Rapids won’t have enough beds, ProPublica reports.

The worst-case scenario shows if 60 percent of infected people need hospitalization within six months, Cedar Rapids will need three times as many hospital beds as it now has available.

Iowa City has the same trends, but with more available beds. The worst-case scenario shows Iowa City needing about 225 percent of the beds currently available.

ProPublica used data modeled by Dr. Ashish Jha and his team of researchers at the Harvard Global Health Institute, the news outlet reported.

The projections were created using hospital bed figures from recent surveys conducted by the American Hospital Association and data compiled by the American Hospital Directory.

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“The models assumed uniform infection rates over each time period with steady hospitalizations, and did not account for possible spikes or dips in new cases,” ProPublica explained. “Though in all likelihood infection rates will not be uniform, this model does not take into account the speed of spread for COVID-19.”

Comments: (319) 339-3157; erin.jordan@thegazette.com

Rod Boshart of The Gazette Des Moines Bureau contributed.

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