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COVID-19 hospitalizations drop, but experts warn Iowans not to let their guard down over the holidays

Natalie Krebs
IPR File
One of UnityPoint's Methodist Hospital's recovery units to try to boost staff morale as they continue to deal with a surge in COVID-19 cases.

State health officials are reporting COVID-19 hospitalizations and test positivity rates have dropped, but experts are warning Iowans not to let down their guard over the holidays.

Officials reported Wednesday that hospitalizations dropped to 747, down from 823 last week - the record high for this year.

The 14-day test positivity rate is at 10.8 percent, down from 11.3 percent last week.

State officials also confirmed an additional 119 deaths in the past week — bringing the state's total to 7,799 deaths — and 10,381 new infections.

But Mike Brownlee, the chief pharmacy officer at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, said health care workers are concerned as the highly transmissible omicron variant continues to spread.

"We know that there are still a large number of unvaccinated individuals in the state of Iowa, a number of individuals that are not boosted yet," he said, "and those ... are at the highest risk at this point for potentially getting COVID leading to a hospitalization."

According to state data, 55.5 percent of all Iowans are fully vaccinated.

The vast majority of those hospitalized — 81.5 percent — aren't fully vaccinated. The majority of those who are hospitalized and fully vaccinated are 60 and older.

Brownlee said the state's health care system continues to be strained under the increasing number of COVID-19 hospitalizations, respiratory virus infections and delayed care during the pandemic.

"In the near future, we're trying to make sure that we can maintain our workforce. That continues to be a struggle not only for us, but for hospitals around the state of Iowa," he said.

Brownlee said Iowans should look at holiday activities from an "overall risk perspective."

For example, he said having contact with close family when everyone is vaccinated is considered the lowest risk, while attending an indoor event with unvaccinated people is high risk.

"If you're in that situation where you're indoors in close quarters with people that aren't known to you, wear a mask, try and be as distant as you can, make sure it's a big open area, so that air can circulate appropriately," Brownlee said.

"These are all things that we've had to deal with for almost two years now and we are, we know what the safety mechanisms are to protect us and our families."

Natalie Krebs is IPR's Health Reporter