COVID-19: Hospitalizations jumped from 600 to 700 in four days; 1,733 Iowans have died since March

A face mask discarded in Coralville, Sept. 24, 2020. — Emma McClatchey/Little Village

Iowa set a new record for the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients for the eighth day in a row with more than 700 patients hospitalized for the first time. The Iowa Department of Public Health was reporting 718 hospitalizations on Monday morning, an increase from Sunday’s record-setting total of 676 hospitalizations.

The state surpassed 700 hospitalizations only four days after it set a new record with more than 600 hospitalized COVID-19 patients. It was only 13 days ago on Oct. 20 that IDPH reported more than 500 hospitalizations for the first time.

On Oct. 1, IDPH was reporting 393 hospitalized COVID-19 patients. Between Oct. 1 and Nov. 2, when it reported 718 confirmed cases in Iowa hospitals, the state experienced an 82.7 percent increase in the number of hospitalizations.

The state’s surge in new cases is also reflected in the number of nursing home outbreaks. IDPH is recording 80 ongoing outbreaks in Iowa nursing homes. IDPH does not report on COVID-19 cases in nursing homes unless the facility meets its unusually strict definition of an outbreak: at least three residents testing positive for the virus. Minnesota, by contrast, considers any nursing home to be experiencing an outbreak of COVID-19 if any resident, staff member or contract worker tests positive.

Although Gov. Kim Reynolds frequently cites nursing home residents as a vulnerable population her administration is actively taking all the necessary steps to protect, a story published by Iowa Capital Dispatch indicates otherwise.

“Of the 20 Iowa nursing homes with the biggest, active COVID-19 outbreaks, 14 were cleared by state inspectors of any infection-control violations earlier this year,” the Dispatch’s Clark Kaufman reported.

Kaufman used the Hiawatha Care Center, one of two Linn County currently classified as having an outbreak, as an example of the questionable nature of nursing home inspections.

During a routine inspection on June 18, inspectors from the Iowa Department of Inspection and Appeals (DIA) found no violations of infection-control procedures. After that, DIA received complaints about Hiawatha Care Center on three occasions.

Responding to a complaint, inspectors returned and did another infection-control review on July 29 and again found no violations. On Sept. 24, inspectors returned in response to a second complaint and again found no violations. On Oct. 14, inspectors responded to a third complaint and, for the fourth time, found no infection-control issues.

On Monday, IDPH was reporting 94 residents or staff members at the nursing home — the department does not provide any more detailed information than just a general number for each facility — had tested positive for COVID-19 during the ongoing outbreak.

The surge in new cases of COVID-19 isn’t just limited to hospitals and nursing homes. IDPH’s coronavirus information site calculates its 14-day positivity average for tests at both the state and county level in a way that consistently produces lower rates — often substantially lower rates — than any other COVID-19 tracker, but its results on Monday indicated just how uncontrolled the spread of the virus is in Iowa.

Of Iowa’s 99 counties, 49 had 14-day average positivity rates of 15 percent or higher, the extremely high threshold IDPH and the Iowa Department of Education have set for school districts if they want to offer less than 50 percent in-person instruction. Both the WHO and the CDC have recommended communities not go forward with relaxing COVID-19 restrictions when 14-day positivity average are above 5 percent. There are no counties in Iowa at that level.

The county with the lowest 14-day average is Greene, with a rate of 7.3 percent. Johnson County’s 14-day average positivity rate was 9.2 percent, according to IDPH. Linn County’s 14-day average was 14.5 percent.

At 10 a.m. on Monday, IDPH reported another 1,469 Iowa had tested positive for COVID-19, including 53 residents of Johnson County and 172 residents of Linn County. The newly reported cases increased the total number of Iowans who have tested positive since March 8 to 131,713.

Monday was the first day since Oct. 28 the department had reported fewer than 2,469 new cases for the 24-hour period ending at 10 a.m.

Between 10 a.m. on Friday and 10 a.m. on Monday, IDPH reported 28 more deaths from the virus. Among the deceased were two residents of Linn County. The new deaths increased the state’s COVID-19 death toll to 1,733.

Gov. Reynolds has not held a news conference on COVID-19 since Oct. 7, citing a busy schedule campaigning for Republicans running in Tuesday’s election as a major reason she’s too busy to do so. Reporters did catch up with the governor after a campaign event for Sen Joni Ernst in Stuart, Iowa on Thursday and asked her if she planned to introduce any new measure to help to stop the spread of COVID-19.

“No,” the governor said. “You know, we’re continuing to learn to live with it, to live with COVID-19, as we move forward.”

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