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Health

Iowa sees record COVID hospitalization levels during the holiday season for a second year

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Natalie Krebs
/
IPR File
Emergency staff at Methodist Hospital in Des Moines have seen an increase in COVID-19 patients.

Iowa's COVID-19 hospitalizations continued to trend upward this week, reaching record highs for this year.

State health officials reported Friday that 747 Iowans are hospitalized with the virus, the highest number Iowa has seen so far this year.

Iowa experienced a surge in COVID hospitalizations around the holiday period last year, experiencing more than 1,500 hospitalizations daily in November 2020.

Austin Baeth, an internal medicine physician at UnityPoint Health, said this year's surge looks much different.

He said patients this year are younger than last year, and they’re mostly unvaccinated.

Those who are fully vaccinated and hospitalized are most often older than 60 with underlying conditions, he said.

"I think a lot of people have been fooled into thinking that because they might be young or have no comorbidities, that they are somehow immune to this virus. But it just simply isn't the case," he said.

According to state data, 53 percent of all Iowans and 63 percent of those 12 and older have been fully vaccinated.

As of Wednesday, state hospital data shows Iowans 60 and older made up 63 percent of the current hospitalizations — with 65 percent of this group being unvaccinated.

Iowans ages 12 to 59 made up 35 percent of hospitalizations with 90 percent of this group being unvaccinated. The vast majority of those vaccinated and hospitalized in this younger group were in the 50-to-59 age range.

Ten Iowans under 12 were hospitalized. All were unvaccinated.

Federal officials have authorized people ages 5 and older to receive the Pfizer vaccine.

Baeth said there are a few factors that make this year different — the availability of the COVID-19 vaccine as well as the increase in the highly transmittable delta variant.

He said the delta variant is the reason that hospitals have been "filled to the brim" the last few months, and why they're now seeing younger people get sicker.

That's on top of fewer people following mitigation strategies.

Baeth said it's been a really stressful time for medical professionals.

"There's nothing more heartbreaking than telling a 35-year-old father of two that we need to put them on a ventilator now, and you need to call your family because it might be the last time you talk with them," he said.

He recommends everyone qualified get vaccinated and get their booster shot, but he said those who are fully vaccinated still need to take precautions like wearing masks in public, socially distancing, and testing frequently for the virus.

"Another great idea is to test especially before going into a group of people who are not in your own household," Baeth said. "It would also be a reasonable idea to test usually about three or four days after going to some sort of high risk event."