Thousands more Iowans are testing positive for the coronavirus each day, as the omicron variant fuels a surge unlike anything seen in the state since the fall of 2020, new data showed Wednesday.
The Iowa Department of Public health recorded 31,748 new cases of COVID-19 over the past week. That's just under Iowa's one-week record of 32,081, set in mid-November 2020. It works out to 4,535 cases per day. On average, over the past seven days, a new COVID-19 case has been reported in Iowa every 19 seconds.
Kelly Garcia, interim director of the Iowa Department of Public Health, said she hopes the wave of infections will begin to subside soon.
"We are either in the peak or very close to the peak of our omicron outbreak nationwide," Garcia told the health department's advisory board Wednesday morning. She said that although Iowa and nearby states have lagged some other regions in omicron infections, she hopes the wave soon will begin declining here as it has elsewhere.
However, she acknowledged the situation is fluid, and she urged Iowans to take precautions to help slow the virus's spread.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates about 90% of the cases currently reported in Iowa's region are due to the omicron variant, one week after it was determined to be the dominant strain in the region. The variant spreads more easily than previous versions of the coronavirus. Although it apparently is less prone to cause severe illness in each infected person, the volume of infections is straining clinics and hospitals around Iowa and the nation.
The new cases this week bring Iowa's total for the pandemic to 626,336. Since the start of the pandemic, about one out of every five Iowans has contracted the disease.
And over the past two weeks, about one out of every five COVID-19 tests has come back positive. The state's 14-day positivity rate increased from 14.9% to 21.2% in Wednesday's update. Over just the past seven days, it was 23.8%.
The statistical increase in cases mainly reflects people who have come up positive on COVID tests obtained from health care providers or testing centers. The state data likely does not include most of the results — positive or negative — from popular in-home rapid tests.
Demand for testing has surged in recent weeks, leading to lines at testing centers and empty shelves in pharmacies. Garcia said the state's free testing service, called Test Iowa, has seen a crush of people requesting take-home kits and sending them to the state lab for analysis. Because of that, it is now taking an average of about 30 hours for the lab to process each kit, up from less than 24 hours, she said.
Garcia urged Iowans to use Test Iowa and similar testing programs if they have symptoms of COVID-19 or if they were extensively exposed to someone else who did. The program is not meant for people who want to check their status before getting on a plane or attending a social event, she said.
"We need you to be strategic about when you're testing," she said.
Hospitalizations continue to surge
Iowa's COVID-19 hospitalizations have been climbing, although not nearly as quickly as COVID-19 cases.
The 923 people hospitalized in Iowa with COVID-19 as of Wednesday's update were the most in the state since December 2020. Unvaccinated Iowans once again made up the largest share — 73% of COVID-19 hospitalizations were among those who were not fully vaccinated, as were 79% of the 178 patients who required intensive care.
The first time the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 topped 900, on Nov. 5, 2020, Gov. Kim Reynolds brought leaders of two of the state’s largest hospital systems to the Capitol to plead with Iowans to “do their part” to stop the spread. Less than a week later, with the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients topping 1,200, she instituted a mask mandate for large groups. Then on Nov. 16, with hospitalizations at more than 1,500, she expanded the mask mandate and left it in place until February 2021, when vaccines were becoming widely available and the number of hospitalized COVID patients had dropped to close to 300.
On Tuesday alone, the state reported 176 people were admitted to Iowa’s hospitals with COVID-19 diagnoses, the second-highest single-day admittance since Dec. 1, 2020. The record single-day admittance was Jan. 5, when 186 COVID-19 patients were admitted.
About 36% of people hospitalized in Iowa with COVID-19 came to the hospital for a different diagnosis, but were found to be infected with the coronavirus, the new state data shows. Such secondary hospitalizations have been recorded throughout the pandemic.
Dr. Ravi Vemuri, an infectious disease physician at MercyOne Medical Center in Des Moines, said in an interview it’s not always clear what role COVID-19 might have played in sparking or worsening another condition that led to someone being hospitalized.
For example, Vemuri said, MercyOne recently saw a patient who’d suffered a stroke. The man came in with paralysis on his right side and an inability to speak. He’d been feverish for a couple of days before the stroke, but hadn’t shown telltale symptoms of COVID-19, such as a cough or shortness of breath. A routine test at the hospital showed he was positive for the coronavirus.
Doctors found and removed a clot that apparently led to the stroke. Although COVID-19 is known to cause blood clots, doctors can’t say for sure whether this patient’s clot was related to his coronavirus infection.
“He would be considered one where the COVID was found ‘incidentally,’” the doctor said.
Between Dec. 1 and Jan. 10, about 16% of MercyOne Medical Center inpatients who tested positive for the coronavirus had come in for treatment of something else, Vemuri said. He estimated roughly 80% of those “incidental” COVID infections were clearly unrelated to the reason the person was hospitalized.
For example, he said, a patient may have slipped on the ice and broken a hip. Even so, if such a patient tests positive for the virus, hospital staff must take significant precautions to isolate them in an effort to keep the virus from spreading further. Those precautions, which include extensive use of personal protective equipment, take extra time and add to the strain on short-staffed hospitals.
Doctors also have noted the official tally of people hospitalized with COVID-19 doesn't include patients who continue suffering severe after-effects of the disease after they no longer test positive for the virus.
Shortage of medications to treat COVID-19
Besides crowding and short-staffing, hospitals are dealing with a shortage of medications to try to head off severe COVID-19 illness.
Ken Sharp, an Iowa Department of Public Health administrator, told the agency's advisory board Wednesday that just one version of the intravenous treatment known as monoclonal antibodies appears to work well against the omicron variant. Fewer than 300 courses of that medication were allocated to Iowa this week, he said.
Sharp said the state has started to receive orders of new antiviral pills, which were recently approved to ward off severe illness in vulnerable patients. He said only a few thousand courses of those pills have been allocated to Iowa so far, but he hopes to see increased shipments soon.
In the meantime, he said, the best strategy to decrease severe illness and death from COVID-19 is to promote vaccinations.
The pace of vaccinations held steady from previous weeks, the new health department data shows. The number of Iowans who are fully vaccinated increased by a third of a percentage point, to 56.4%, according to the health department. Of those, 48% have also received a booster dose of the vaccine, which experts say can help ward off severe symptoms.
An additional 182 COVID-19 deaths were reported in Wednesday's update, raising the total since the start of the pandemic to 8,201. The deaths reported Wednesday occurred from October through January, and represent an increase over the 161 recorded a week earlier.
Nola Aigner Davis, spokesperson for the Polk County Health Department, said it's frustrating to see the pandemic rekindle, especially among people who are unvaccinated or who cast aside precautions such as wearing masks in indoor public places and staying home if they feel ill.
"We need to make smart decisions, and we're not doing that as a community," she said. "That's why our numbers keep going through the roof."
Aigner Davis said too many Iowans believe precautions are no longer needed because the omicron strain tends to cause less severe symptoms in many people. That may be true for a relatively healthy young person, but others remain at high risk, she said.
You can never tell if people near you have chronic health conditions or live with an elderly person who could be killed by COVID-19, she said. "You have to think about more than yourself," Aigner Davis said. "Ending a pandemic is about more than you."
Read more on COVID-19 in Iowa:
Read more on COVID-19 in Iowa:
The latest COVID-19 numbers in Iowa
The latest data, as of 10 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 12, compared to the previous Wednesday.
Confirmed cases: 626,336, an increase of 31,748
Deaths: 8,201, an increase of 182
Total tested: 2,332,637
Total recovered: 540,481
Statewide 14-day positivity rate: 21.2%
How many people are hospitalized with COVID-19 in Iowa?
Hospitalizations: 923, up from 792 one week ago
Patients in ICU: 178, up from 161
Patients on ventilators: 86, down from 99
How many people in Polk and Dallas counties are vaccinated?
In Polk County, 312,124 residents (64%) are fully vaccinated, an increase of 2,127 (0.4 percentage points) since last week.
In Dallas County, 60,031 residents (64%) are fully vaccinated, an increase of 468 (0.5 percentage points).
The five counties in Iowa with the highest percentage of their population fully vaccinated as of Jan. 12 are Johnson (68%), Buena Vista (64%), Dallas (64%), Polk (64%) and Linn (63%) counties.
For a county-by-county look at the vaccination rollout, see our COVID-19 vaccine tracker, which is updated weekly.
This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Iowa's new COVID cases at near-record number amid omicron surge
Source : https://news.yahoo.com/iowa-most-covid-cases-since-171512163.html2132