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Washington Post highlights strain on Iowa hospitals; 40% of Iowa’s COVID-19 deaths occurred in 2021


2019 novel coronavirus, or COVID-19 — CDC

In its final weekly COVID-19 update for 2021, the Iowa Department of Public Health reported another 11,234 new cases on Wednesday, bringing the total number of the new cases confirmed by the department in its weekly updates during the month of December to 54,619.

IDPH also disclosed another 59 deaths from the virus, bringing the state’s official COVID-19 death toll to 7,858. According to IDPH data, 3,191 of those deaths, or 40.6 percent of the total, have occurred since Dec. 31, 2020.

The number of COVID-19 patients in Iowa hospitals dropped for the second week in a row, declining to 711 from 747 patients in the previous weekly update. Despite the decline, this week’s total is still the fifth highest number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients reported in an IDPH weekly update during 2021.

The impact the ongoing COVID-19 surge is having on Iowa hospitals and their ability to treat non-COVID patients received national attention this week, as the Washington Post published a story on Dale Weeks, a retired school superintendent who died last month.

The 78-year-old Wayne County resident didn’t have the virus, but ended up spending 15 days in a Newton hospital, waiting to be transferred to a larger facility where he could receive the treatment he needed, because the state’s larger hospitals were overwhelmed by this fall’s surge of COVID-19 patients.

Weeks’ family believes the 15-day delay was a primary cause of his death.

“It was terribly frustrating being told, ‘There’s not a bed yet,’” Weeks’ daughter Jenifer Owenson told the Post. “All of us were talking multiple times a day, ‘Why can’t we get him a bed?’ There was this logjam to get him in anywhere.”

According to the Des Moines Register, which first reported on Weeks’ story, he went to the hospital in Centerville on the night of Nov. 1, thinking he might have the flu. Doctors at the hospital diagnosed him as having sepsis, an often life-threatening condition, but could not admit him to the hospital to begin treatment because there were no beds available.

It wasn’t until approximately noon the following day a hospital that could take Weeks was found, and he was admitted to MercyOne in Newton, where he was treated with antibiotics while the staff tried to find an available bed at a larger hospital that could provide more advanced treatments. By the time Weeks was transferred to University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics on Nov. 17, his condition was much worse. UIHC doctors performed two surgeries in an attempt to save his life, but were unsuccessful. He died on Nov. 28. Weeks’ obituary describes him as “a kind, loyal, and humble person,” who “could be counted on to offer help, say ‘yes’ to a request for a favor, and assume the best in others.”

“The thing that bothers me the most is people’s selfish decision not to get vaccinated and the failure to see how this affects a greater group of people,” Owenson told the Post. “That’s the part that’s really difficult to swallow.”

In its weekly update on Wednesday, IDPH said 80.6 percent of the 711 COVID-19 patients currently in Iowa hospitals are not fully vaccinated. Overall, the department reports 55.8 percent of Iowans are fully vaccinated.


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