Health officials: Polk County COVID-19 cases threaten to overwhelm hospitals

By: - November 6, 2020 4:53 pm

A medical worker holds a swab used to test for COVID-19. (Photo by Mladen Sladojevic/Getty Images)

Public health officials warned Friday that Polk County’s COVID-19 case count will triple the spring peak in the next two weeks if infections grow at the current rate.

They fear the health system will be overwhelmed unless residents are more diligent in social distancing, wearing masks and washing their hands.

Polk County Health Director Helen Eddy warned that local hospitals made be overwhelmed if residents don’t take precautions against spreading COVID-19, which will triple the spring peak in the next two weeks. (Screenshot from livestream news conference)

“Polk County is on track to to triple our our first peak of the spring in the next two weeks,” said Helen Eddy, Polk County health director.

Eddy appeared at on online news conference in which representatives of local hospitals and the Polk County Board of Supervisors pleaded with residents to wear their masks in public, wash their hands, avoid other people and get flu shots.

“Polk County is facing a very serious situation due to the surge in COVID-19,” Eddy said. We are seeing significant increases in positive cases and hospitalizations that if left unaddressed, has the potential to overwhelm our health care system.”

Statistics show Polk County is losing the battle with the coronavirus, especially without a vaccine available for COVID-19.

“At the end of September, our 14-day average positivity rate was 6%,” Eddy said. “Today, the 14-day positivity rate is 14.2%.”

“In Polk County our positive case count since the beginning of the COVID pandemic now exceeds 22,000 cases,” Eddy added. “Yesterday alone, we added more than 600 new positive cases. We are seeing significant, widespread community transmission of COVID-19.”

That surge has strained hospitals across the state, including Polk County.

“At the end of September, our COVID-19 hospitalizations were at 60,” Eddy said. “In the first peak, we saw a high of 157 COVID-19 hospitalizations. As of this morning, our COVID hospitalizations in Polk County are at 153.”

Eddy said the county is risking the prospect of hospitals not being able to treat everyone at the best time.

“I am not going to mince words. Our situation is critical,” Eddy said. 

“We know that people are tired of COVID. However, we cannot give up. We are asking the citizens of Polk County to embrace and consistently use the public health measures to help us control this surge,” Eddy added.

Eddy recommended that residents either limit their Thanksgiving gatherings to their immediate family, or celebrate outside.

The New York Times reported Polk County has recorded 22,196 COVID-19 cases and 296 related deaths through Friday. The county has had an average of 320 new cases a day over the past two weeks, and has averaged one death per day in the same period.

The Times reported that Iowa had at least 13 new coronavirus deaths and 5,480 new cases on Thursday. Over the past week, the state has averaged 2,795 cases per day, an increase of 144% from the average two weeks ago, the newspaper reported.

Deaths are up 8% statewide over the past two weeks, with 13 on Thursday. Hospitalizations are up 45% in two weeks across the state, the Times reported.

The Iowa Department of Public Health reported 912 COVID patients were hospitalized in Iowa Friday afternoon, up from 839 on Thursday. The number admitted over the past 24 hours stood at 164, up from 156 the day before, with the number in intensive care remaining at 188 a second straight day.

Dr. Hijinio Carreon, chief medical officer for MercyOne Des Moines, said the talk of flattening of the curve didn’t hold through fall in iowa.

“We are no long there,” Carreon said. “That curve continues to rise, and we are in a critical situation. We have the option to continue to believe this is not an issue or to realize our current situation. We are in a crisis across our country and definitely within our state,” Carreon said. 

At her weekly news conference, Gov. Kim Reynolds did not announce new restrictions on businesses or other facilities, opting to encourage Iowans to wear masks and socially distance. She said a new ad campaign will give people the same message.

This week’s White House task force report noted Iowa still is in the red zone for COVID-19 cases with the fifth-highest coronavirus test positivity rate in the country. Polk County had the highest rate of infection among Iowa’s counties, the task force reported, followed by Dubuque and Linn.

Iowa’s per capita COVID-19 rate was more than double the national average in the most recent report, the federal task force added. Ninety-five percent of Iowa’s hospitals every day in the past week had reported admitting patients who had tested positive for COVID or were suspected of having the coronavirus.

On average, a combined 94 patients confirmed to have COVID and 32 suspected of having it were admitted each day at Iowa hospitals, the task force reported.

The White House recommended that Iowans always wear a mask in public, avoid gathering with people living in other households, and avoid gatherings outside of their own households until infection rates fall.

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Perry Beeman
Perry Beeman

Perry Beeman has nearly 40 years of experience in Iowa journalism and has won national awards for environmental and business writing. He has written for The Des Moines Register and the Business Record, where he also served as managing editor. He also is former editorial director of Grinnell College. He co-authored the recently published book, "The $80 Billion Gamble," which details the lottery-rigging case of Eddie Tipton.