Rate of infection slows in Iowa, but nursing home outbreaks still growing

By: - November 24, 2020 1:44 pm

The average daily number of newly confirmed COVID-19 cases in Iowa is up 50% from two weeks ago, and up almost 67% from one week ago, according to the latest data from the New York Times and Washington Post.(Credit: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Rocky Mountain Lab)

After a long series of record-setting daily totals, the number of newly reported infections and deaths tied to COVID-19 in Iowa are showing signs of trending downward.

Over the past week, there has been an average of 3,599 cases per day, a decrease of 7% from the average two weeks earlier, according to the New York Times’ COVID-19 tracker.

Unfortunately, Iowa nursing homes — which account for almost half f the state’s COVID-19 deaths — are continuing to see an alarming growth in the number of outbreaks and infections. One week ago, there were 2,881 infections associated with 96 active outbreaks in Iowa nursing homes. On Friday, that number soared to 4,327 infections associated with 119 outbreaks.

Tuesday, there are 4,613 infections associated with 144 nursing home outbreaks. That represents a 60% increase in the number of infections over the past seven days, and a 50% increase in the number of outbreaks.

The biggest recent increase in nursing home infections has been in Hamilton County, where two facilities — Crestview Nursing & Rehab and Southfield Wellness Community — have active outbreaks tied to 36 and 33 infections, respectively.

According to the Iowa Department of Public Health, 1,008 of Iowa’s nursing home residents and workers have died of COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic. Iowa’s overall, statewide death toll from COVID-19 stands at 2,222.

On Monday, 20 new coronavirus deaths and 3,128 new infections were reported statewide in Iowa. While those numbers are significantly higher than what Iowa experienced in the early summer, when Iowa was averaging about 380 new cases per day, they could reflect a turnaround, or at least a slowdown, in the pandemic’s rate of growth. Last Thursday, for example, Iowa reported 25 additional deaths along with 4,040 new cases of coronavirus.

But with infections having grown exponentially in recent weeks, and with the Thanksgiving holiday fast approaching, health officials have warned that the rate of infections and deaths could increase again in the weeks ahead.

The decrease in the statewide number of new infections might also be influenced by decreased testing in Iowa. Nine days ago, Iowa was averaging more than 7,500 tests per week. Currently, the state is averaging about 6,500 tests per week.

The rate of hospitalizations in Iowa, which has soared since mid-October, is still near record levels. The number of COVID-19 patients in Iowa hospitals each day for the past week is 1,441, which is only a slight reduction from the previous day’s record-setting, seven-day average of 1,450.

The Iowa Department of Public Health reported 275 Iowans in intensive care units on Tuesday, which is consistent with the record-setting levels seen over the past 10 days. There are 348 ICU beds in Iowa that are still available for patient use, according to the IDPH.

Also on Tuesday, IDPH reported that a total of 165 Iowans were admitted to hospitals with COVID-19 during the previous 24 hours. That is an increase of 30 from the previous day, but a sharp reduction from the 250 daily new admissions Iowa was seeing just 10 days ago.

As of Tuesday afternoon, there had been at least 214,792 infections in Iowa since the beginning of the pandemic.

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Clark Kauffman
Clark Kauffman

Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing. His 2004 series on prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. From October 2018 through November 2019, Kauffman was an assistant ombudsman for the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, an agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of wrongdoing within state and local government agencies.