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Iowa Health Care Providers Prepare As COVID-19 Hospitalizations Remain High

Arseny Togulev
As hospitalizations in Iowa remain high, many of the state's health care providers are preparing for surges.

Across Iowa new COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations remain high, this continues to put a strain on the state’s health care system.

As COVID-19 related hospitalization numbers continue to soar, Iowa's health care providers say they're starting to prepare for more patients.

This week, new infection rates are still above 4,000, with numbers of daily reported infections down slightly from last week, but still above numbers reported even a month ago.

According to the latest White House Coronavirus Task Force Report, high rates of community transmission are reported across all 99 Iowa counties.

This week hospitalizations topped 1,500, more than doubling in a little more than two weeks.

University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics CEO Suresh Gunasekaran told the Iowa Board of Regents Wednesday that nearly 100 of UIHC's 850 beds are now filled with COVID-19 patients.

This was just days after Polk County health officials announced on Saturday, their hospitalizations had hit a peak of more than 200 patients.

"Staffing is one of the biggest challenges facing Polk County hospitals. We are seeing an increasing number of medical staff out with COVID-19 or isolating at home, and because of this, adequate hospital and clinic staffing remains an issue for our community," said Nola Aigner Davis, spokesperson for the Polk County Department of Public Health, in a statement.

Some officials at rural hospitals also said their hospitals are feeling strained.

Joel Wells, a family medicine doctor at the Wayne County Hospital in Corydon, said they’ve made a makeshift wing in the hospital that can hold 12 COVID patients, and there have been times when that wing is almost full.

"We've taken a hallway and these plastic sheets, zippers, and we've kind of created a makeshift separate hospital unit to seal that off from the rest of the hospital and tried to use really strict infection control standards," he said.

In the past week, Wayne County has had a 14-day average positivity rate as high as 40 percent. As of Friday morning, that number had dropped to 20 percent.

Wells said the staff at his hospital has worked a lot of overtime, with a lot of people staying after shifts or coming in on their days off.

But Wells said he's seen how strained the system is as transfers are becoming more difficult. He said he recently spent three days trying to get a patient into an ICU in Des Moines with no luck.

"That has never happened in my career. That type of frustration, that type of inability to get for a patient what that patient needs. It's never been like this," he said.

Jenna Lovaas, the administrator for the Jones County Public Health Department, said in a statement, the department is "doing our best to stay afloat."

Jones County is home to Anamosa State Penitentiary, which has experienced a major outbreak among staff and prisoners. Lovaas said the prison has "greatly contributed to our numbers," and the department is managing outbreaks at multiple facilities.

As of Friday morning, it's 14-day average positivity rate was 38 percent, the highest in the state.

"We have more people hospitalized than ever before, and I know the hospitals are feeling the strain," she said.