COVID hospitalizations rise, straining some medical centers

By: - August 16, 2021 3:56 pm

More than half of the Iowa caregivers who participated in a recent survey say they are opposed to vaccine mandates. (Photo by Parker Michels-Boyce for the Virginia Mercury)

Editor’s note:  This story has been updated from the original version to correct Sioux County’s vaccinate rate, which is 34%.

Iowa’s COVID-19 hospitalizations continued to rise in the past week, testing some facilities’ capacity.

The largest share of hospitalizations, 21%, now involve patients in their 50s, the Iowa Department of Public Health reported. Next highest are people in their 70s (19%), 40s (16%), 80s (11%), 30s (10%), ages 19 to 29 (8%) and children through age 17 (2%).

Many of the hospitalizations have involved older Iowans despite the fact that senior citizens are among the most vaccinated. Children under age 12 are not eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

State records show some variation in vaccination rates by county. For example, in the Des Moines metro, more than 52% of residents in Polk and Dallas counties were fully vaccinated as of Monday. Boone County was at 52.9% and Dubuque County, 53%.

But a block of southeastern counties — Mahaska, Keokuk, Lucas, Monroe, Wapello and Jefferson — have vaccination rates of under 40%. Just 34% of Sioux County residents were fully vaccinated as of Monday, and the rate was even lower in nearby Lyon County, 29.9%, the state reported.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported that 63.1% of Iowa’s hospital beds were in use as of Monday, and 69% of intensive care beds were occupied. That is based on 126 hospitals reporting to a federal system.

Steve Sullivan, spokesman for Mary Greeley Medical Center in Ames, said as of Monday morning, the hospital was running at 78% occupancy. That included a half-filled 14-bed intensive care unit. 

Limited capacity

Marcy Peterson, central Iowa spokeswoman for MercyOne, said some of the hospitals are short on space. 

“Some MercyOne hospitals are currently operating on limited capacity,” Peterson said. “In addition to an increased number of COVID-19 cases and spread of the delta variant, hospitals across the country are dealing with traumas, experiencing multiple types of illness, and strains of illness typically only seen in colder months. This demand is coupled with a reduced number of staff to care for patients. 

“These challenges can strain available resources and contribute to delays in care or other complications for patients,” Peterson added.

Nationally, HHS reported, 75% of beds were occupied. Just shy of 11% of hospital beds were in use for COVID-19 cases as of Monday morning.

State records show a general rise in Iowa hospitalizations across age divisions since early July. That comes as cases are up 109% in the past two weeks and now running 747 a day, the New York Times reported. Hospitalizations were up 76% in the past two weeks.

Iowa has recorded 419,238 COVID cases and 6,210 related deaths since the pandemic started.

Nationwide, 799,331 cases were recorded in the past week, up 18.4% and considered high, according to a U.S. Health and Human Services database. The test positivity rate was 9.7%. 

Hospitalizations were up 29.6%, at 70,503.

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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.