Linn County health officials warn COVID-19 hospitalizations will reach an ‘unsustainable level’ if the surge continues

Jordan Sellergren/Little Village

More than 700 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Linn County this week. This is the highest number of cases the county has seen reported in a single week since the pandemic was first confirmed in the county on March 21.

Linn County has 6,142 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of 10 a.m. on Friday, according to Linn County Public Health. A total of 4,173 individuals have recovered, and 139 residents have died.

More than a quarter of the county’s total cases were reported in the month of October.

“We are concerned about the sustained increase in cases reported, especially as we enter colder months where people are spending more time indoors,” Linn County Public Health’s Clinical Services Supervisor Heather Meador said at Friday’s LCPH news conference.

The last LCPH press conference was more than three months ago on July 1. Since then, cases per week have not dropped below 110.

The most recent White House Coronavirus Task Force report said that “all indicators of community spread are increasing” in Iowa. More than 80 percent of Linn County’s cases can be attributed to community spread, according to LCPH’s reopening metrics.

Meador said that the county’s contact tracers are finding cases linked to social events, including weddings, adult birthday parties and family gatherings.

The contact tracers are struggling to keep up with the number of new cases, Meador said. Contact tracers have been working seven days a week for 12 to 14 hours per day.

“These dedicated individuals are being screamed at with vulgar language, including strong profanity,” Meador said. “People hang up on them, refuse to answer questions on close contacts and lie to them. We are not able to help protect the community without your cooperation. We fully understand frustration, anger and the pandemic fatigue.”

Linn isn’t the only county seeing a surge in new cases. On Friday, the Iowa Department of Public Health reported another 60 residents of Johnson County had tested positive for COVID-19 in the 24-hours period that ended at 10 a.m. Statewide, a total of 2,621 more cases of the virus were confirmed during that same period. It was the second day in a row the department reported more than 2,000 new cases.

Between 10 a.m. on Thursday and 10 a.m. on Friday, IDPH also reported another 14 Iowans died from the virus, which brought the state’s COVID-19 death toll to 1,705.

For the fifth day in a row, Iowa set a new record for the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients. On Friday morning, IDPH was reporting 606 COVID-19 patients in the state’s hospitals, 152 of whom were in intensive care units.

The growing number of hospitalizations in Linn County was addressed at Friday’s news conference.

Dr. Tony Myers of Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids said during the course of the pandemic around 300 people have been admitted to the hospital for COVID-19. In the last four days, the hospital has had 32 admissions due to the virus.

“So that means that one in 10 of all of the admissions that have happened in the last eight months have happened in the last four days,” Myers said during the news conference.

Myers said if the rate of hospitalizations continues to rise it will be at an “unsustainable level.”

“That really doesn’t have anything to do with space, negative pressure rooms, ventilators, medical supplies, protective equipment — it has really nothing to do with that,” Myers said. “There is a point where you don’t have enough critical care staffing capacity to take care of an ever increasing number.”

Myers and Dr. Dustin Arnold of UnityPoint Health both said their biggest concern about the hospitalization rate is staffing. Both doctors said there are enough supplies and personal protective equipment.

“Our supplies are good. If you remember back in March that was keeping me up at night, we didn’t have enough supplies,” Arnold said. “We have the space to put patients. But the staff, it’s an endurance issue that’s been going on for a long time.”

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