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UI hospital executive warns Iowa is entering ‘the danger zone’ as the state sets another record for COVID-19 hospitalizations


Jordan Sellergren/Little Village

For the ninth day in row, Iowa set a new record high for hospitalized COVID-19 patients. On Tuesday, the Iowa Department of Public Health reported 730 hospital patients with confirmed cases of the virus, 170 of whom were being treated in intensive care units.

Speaking to reporters on Monday, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics CEO Suresh Gunasekaran said “what we’re entering is the danger zone.”

“Because if it continues like this, it’ll be hard for us to continue to operate without modifying operations and without adding capacity, and then doing some of those restrictions.”

In a column for the Gazette, Gunasekaran explained in more detail what he was meant.

If COVID cases continue to increase on this same trajectory, the health care system as we know it will look very different in 30 days. Hospitals may need to:

• Revise schedules to ensure we can take care of critically ill patients, as well as our essential health care workers, meaning reduced availability of health care services.

• Make difficult decisions, including delaying appointments for routine and preventative care, and rescheduling non-emergent surgeries and procedures. These decisions have real long-term health consequences when people have to put off the care they need.

• Further reduce the number of people in our facilities, perhaps no longer allowing visitors.

• Ultimately, we may not have enough hospital beds for all Iowans that need us, or enough staff to take care of everyone.

According to reports from the White House Coronavirus Task Force the surge in new cases in Iowa is being driven by community spread and that spread is largely occurring in family gatherings and other small social occasions.

The upcoming holiday season may only exacerbate the uncontrolled spread of the virus if no changes are made, Gunasekaran warned on Monday.

“This may be the year that, on top of everything else, 2020 took away our ability for families to get together in the manner that they did before for Thanksgiving and Christmas,” he said. “I think that these are the kinds of choices that Iowans are going to have to make.”

UnityPoint Health, one of largest healthcare providers in Iowa, also put out a statement on Monday.

“It’s crucial for the public to understand that the challenges we are facing are very real and very urgent,” the statement said.

According to UnityPoint, “our staff is both physically and mentally exhausted. They’ve been fighting this virus, and fighting for their patients, for eight months.”

The statement called on Iowans to modify their behavior to help limit the spread of COVID-19.

“The bottom line is, we need your help,” it said.

On Tuesday, IDPH reported another 1,516 people statewide had tested positive for the virus during the 24-hour period ending at 10 a.m. Those new cases include 40 residents of Johnson County and 138 residents of Linn County, and bring the total number of Iowans who have tested positive for COVID-19 to 133,229.

The number of nursing homes in the state experiencing an outbreak of COVID-19 among their residents continued to increase on Tuesday, with IDPH reporting 84 such outbreaks, an increase of four facilities from Monday.

Between 10 a.m. on Monday and 10 a.m. on Tuesday, IDPH also reported another 22 deaths from the virus. Among the deceased was a resident of Johnson County and a resident of Linn County. The newly reported fatalities increased the state’s COVID-19 death toll to 1,755.


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