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COVID-19 hospitalizations reach highest levels in Iowa since December 2020

Natalie Krebs
State health officials say the turnaround time for results from the state's mail in Test Iowa kits has been longer due to the increased demand for testing.

State health officials reported COVID-19 hospitalizations and test positivity rates continue to surge, as the highly-transmittable omicron variant dominates the state's cases.

Officials announced Wednesday that hospitalizations are reported to be at 923 — the highest amount since December 2020.

The 14-day test positivity rate spiked to 21.2 percent this week from 14.9 percent last Wednesday.

State officials confirmed 31,748 new infections in the past week and said that 62.1 percent of test samples sequenced in the past two weeks had the omicron variant.

At the State Board of Health meeting on Wednesday, interim state public health department director Kelly Garcia said demand for testing remains very high.

"We need you to be strategic about when you're testing. We want to follow best practices here, but we really don't have nationwide the capacity to be testing for every exposure all the time," she said.

The state's Test Iowa program is seeing a delay in returning results for its mail-in PCR tests, due to a significant increase in the amount of tests sent to the State Hygienic Lab, Garcia said.

Garcia said the state is asking Iowans not to stockpile tests and only to order more when they have run out, on top of being more conservative about testing.

"So are you actively sick? Have you been exposed?" she said. "Somebody else in your household has it and you're trying to figure out, you know, do I send my child to school or not? If they're asymptomatic, which is what we're seeing a lot of right now, this is a space where that PCR test can be incredibly helpful."

Garcia said with the rise in rapid at-home tests, it's harder to track the true spread of the virus in the community.

"We've long acknowledged me we we've we've lost our denominator here because of at home test kits,” she said.

She said some parts of the state are still testing wastewater for the presence of the virus.

This week, the Biden administration announced health insurance companies will be required to cover eight at-home COVID tests per person per month.

That's as COVID-19 hospitalizations across the U.S. have hit record highs.

Infectious disease experts have previously estimated the current COVID-19 surge in infections will peak in late January or early February in Iowa.

Garcia said the state has contracted with additional respiratory therapists and nurses to help the state's 17 health care facilities with level 1, 2 and 3 trauma care facilities.

Natalie Krebs is IPR's Health Reporter