By DAVID PITT, Associated Press
The number of people being treated for the coronavirus in Iowa hospitals continued to soar Monday, prompting doctors and hospital officials to warn their facilities and staff could be overwhelmed without serious efforts to curtail the virus spread.
Data from the Iowa Department of Public Health indicated 1,469 new confirmed cases and 17 additional deaths in the past 24 hours. That follows a weekend in which more than 2,800 new cases were reported each day.
The seven-day rolling average of the positivity rate in Iowa has risen over the past two weeks from 25.5% on Oct. 18 to 36.4% on Sunday, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Iowa’s rate is now third in the nation behind South Dakota and Wyoming.
All 99 Iowa counties have a positivity rate above 7.5% and 46 are above 15%, an indication that the virus is aggressively spreading statewide.
Health care professionals said increased hospitalizations typically follow higher positive case rates, leading to concerns that Iowa hospitals could soon be overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.
University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics CEO Suresh Gunasekaran said Iowa is entering it’s third peak, one that is higher than previous ones in May and July. His biggest concern is that this peak is at the beginning of the cold weather season during which the flu and other respiratory conditions typically increase illness and hospitalizations.
“The infection rate is definitely a leading indicator for hospitalizations and the hospitalization rate is a leading indicator of mortality,” he said.
If all Iowans start wearing masks, not gathering in crowds and staying distant from one another there would be a lag of a couple of weeks before we would see impact of the actions, he said.
“At this present infection rate we fully expect the hospitalization rate to increase at least another week to 10 days. What it does after that is really in the hands of Iowans,” he said.
Iowa reported 718 people infected with the coronavirus in hospitals Monday, the highest number since the beginning of the pandemic. There were 80 long-term care centers with outbreaks.
Gov. Kim Reynolds, who has been campaigning for Republican candidates in the past few weeks and has held no statewide press conference for much of October to update Iowans about the situation. She hasn’t announced any new initiatives or mitigation efforts. More than 370 Iowans died during October.
Reynolds spokesman Pat Garrett said the governor and her team have been monitoring the numbers, talking with hospital officials about resources and capacity and briefing local radio and television stations as she traveled the state campaigning ahead of Tuesday’s election.
“She plans to hold a news conference later this week to update Iowans on the state’s response,” Garrett said.
There was no explanation as to why Reynolds, a supporter of President Donald Trump who has joined him and other administration officials at Iowa events, was waiting until after Election Day to announce updates. Trump has played down the pandemic and frequently says the situation is improving even as virus infections worsen nationally and especially in many Midwestern states, including Iowa. Reynolds has placed responsibility for slowing the spread on Iowans taking individual responsibility.
Garrett said the state is putting in place a plan to help hospitals deal with workforce issues and working on updates to the state’s online COVID-19 tracking website to better display data.
Democratic Senate Minority Leader Janet Petersen said Reynolds needs to issue a mask mandate and make clear Iowa’s deteriorating situation “so Iowans don’t have a false sense of security that everything is OK when it isn’t.”
“Now our hospitals are overwhelmed and we’ve got a governor gallivanting around at super-spreader events and Republican candidates knocking doors without facemasks,” she said.
UnityPoint Health in Fort Dodge had inpatient beds available on Monday, said spokeswoman Shannon McQuillen. She said the hospital has seen increased COVID-19 cases throughout October and the hospital is now caring for 11 to 12 hospitalized patients daily with additional patients in the emergency room and primary care clinics. She said there are plans if additional space is needed for coronavirus patients but adequate staffing remains an issue with increasing numbers out with the virus or isolating at home.
“It’s crucial for the public to understand that the challenges we are facing are very real and very urgent,” she said. “We’re at a critical point in our state’s fight against COVID-19.”
Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.