Record COVID-19 hospitalizations threaten to ‘overwhelm’ Iowa health care system, hospital executives say

A staffer in UIHC’s MICU, or Medical Intensive Care Unit, where many COVID-19 patients are cared for. — via University of Iowa Health Care on Facebook, desaturated

The surge in new cases of COVID-19 in Iowa continued over the weekend, and the state set yet another record for the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

Between 10 a.m. on Friday and 10 a.m. on Monday, the Iowa Department of Public Health reported 3,897 Iowans had tested positive for COVID-19, which include 103 residents of Johnson County and 231 residents of Linn County.

During that 72-hour period, IDPH also reported 19 more deaths from the virus, increasing Iowa’s COVID-19 death toll to 1,636.

On Sunday evening, 561 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized, according to IDPH. Sunday evening’s total was the fourth time in seven days the state set a new record for hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

Also on Sunday, the official Twitter account of the University of Iowa Health Care tweeted a quote from University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinks CEO Suresh Gunasekaran with the hashtags Pandemic and Iowa.

“None of us have a crystal ball as to how it’s going to spread and what each hospital is going to be able to do. But I would certainly say that it very much is possible to overwhelm hospitals.”

Oct. 25, 2020

The tweet included a link to a story in the Gazette from which the quote was borrowed. The story examined the stress hospitals are facing as the uncontrolled spread of the virus continues in Iowa.

During Gov. Kim Reynolds’ news conference on Oct. 7, which is still the most recent news conference the governor has held to address COVID-19, Reynolds said she was confident Iowa hospitals could handle the surge in cases, because they still had plenty of beds available.

But as Dr. Tony Myers, chief medical officer at Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids, explained in the Gazette story, the number of beds available does not equal a hospital’s ability to care for patients.

“We’ve got enough space,” Myers said. “I don’t know if [hospitals] will be able to staff that space.”

IDPH publishes data on bed availability, but does not publish any information on hospital staffing levels.

In addition to a new record for hospitalizations in Iowa, this weekend also saw a new potential driver of community spread in Johnson County as Hawkeye football returned.

“Fans crowded into bars in downtown Iowa City to watch the game,” Iowa Public Radio reported. “At times, lines stretched out the door at some locations. Elsewhere in town, students held large house parties, or pulled TVs outside to watch in small groups.”

The Big 10 canceled its fall season on Aug. 11, in order to help limit the spread of COVID-19 among student athletes and the communities where its schools are located. The conference immediately came under pressure to reverse its decision from alumni, fans, parents of football players and Republican politicians, from President Trump to Gov. Reynolds.

On Sept. 16, the conference announced it would play a shortened fall season after all.

The Hawkeyes played their first game of the season at Purdue on Saturday. They lost. Their next game, scheduled for Oct. 31, will be their first home game.

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