Iowa’s COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to break records as facilities reach capacity

Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Rene Azombi, a Navy reservist temporarily assigned to Navy Medicine Readiness and Training Command Great Lakes (NMRTC), conducts a nasal swab on a recruit at Naval Station Great Lakes Recruit Training Command (RTC). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Caylen J. McCutcheon/Released)

The number of Iowans hospitalized due to COVID-19 complications continues to skyrocket as hospital staff at major facilities say their workers and their capacity are being stretched thin.

On Saturday, the Polk County Health Department announced that area hospitals were stressed over the record number of coronavirus-related hospitalizations.

“We cannot stress enough how alarming and urgent the situation has become for hospitals and their health care workers,” the health department said in a written statement.

UnityPoint Health Des Moines announced last week that all of its hospitals were at capacity for the first time since the pandemic began, according to KCCI. 

The University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics also announced last week that it activated the first phase of its surge plan, which includes adding intensive care unit beds, according to the Gazette.

University of Iowa epidemiologist Eli Perencevich said tweeted on Sunday that hospital rooms and ICU beds were filling. 

The Iowa Department of Public Health announced on Monday that it’s seeking private bids to increase its number of COVID-19 contact tracers, “due to the exponential increase in case volume,” according to the department. Vendors had one day to respond to the request for bids.

The request-for-proposal process is being expedited with an anticipated start date seven days after the contract is awarded. The Des Moines Register reported that the state has 90 employees now performing contact tracing.

In Iowa, nearly 3,000 hospital beds, or about 34% of all inpatient beds, are still available statewide. There are 354 ICU beds still available, according to the state’s COVID-19 website.

Only five Iowa counties have an infection rate below 15%. Jones County, home to the Anamosa State Penitentiary, has the highest COVID-19 infection rate at 50%. As of Monday morning, 262 inmates had tested positive out of 1,729 who have been tested, according to the Iowa Department of Corrections.

At least 4 new coronavirus deaths and 2,757 new cases were reported in Iowa on Sunday, Nov. 15. Over the past week, there has been an average of 4,390 cases per day, an increase of 107 percent from the average two weeks earlier, according to the New York Times’ COVID-19 tracker. Iowa has the third-highest infection rate per capita in the country, behind North Dakota and South Dakota, according to the Times.

Linh Ta
Reporter Linh Ta comes to Iowa Capital Dispatch from the Des Moines Register, where she covered trending news, public safety and the suburbs. Most recently, she has covered retail business and followed both national and local trends to provide insight about the issues that matter the most to Iowans. Beyond traditional journalism, Ta has worked as a speech coach with the Des Moines Storytellers Project with the goal of sharing the diverse perspectives of Iowans from all walks of life. She is the 2019 winner of the Young Iowa Journalist Award and the winner of an Iowa Broadcast News Award. Email her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @linhmaita.