Over the last several weeks, there has been a large increase in the number of cases of COVID-19 in Iowa. Just comparing the last two weeks for which we have complete information we saw cases rise from 8,895 two weeks ago to 14,712 last week. As cases increase in a pandemic, it stresses all aspects of our systems in place to slow the disease. It is more difficult to meet the demand for testing, there are more cases to contact trace, and it is more difficult to provide care for all the patients who need our health care system. It is perhaps this last point that is most concerning. It hasn’t been just cases increasing, but we’ve seen a very rapid increase in the number of hospitalized patients across the state of Iowa. On October 1, there were 393 patients hospitalized due to COVID-19 in Iowa. On November 1, we had 718 patients hospitalized – an 82% increase that was accelerating at the end of the month.
At Iowa Specialty Hospital, we are continuing to do everything we can to provide the services our community needs. We’ve been able to continue providing virtually all of our usual services over the last 6 months. We’ve put protections in place to prevent spread of COVID-19 within our facilities and, to the best of our knowledge, have not had any of our patients coming in for care acquire COVID due to their visit. We’ve also become proficient in taking care of patients with COVID, with every FDA authorized treatment available. By my count, we’ve now cared for 46 inpatients admitted due to COVID-19. While we’re proud of what we’ve been able to do through this time, this recent large increase in cases and hospitalizations threatens our ability to ensure all our patients get what they need and we need our entire community’s help.
In the last week, we’ve had difficulty getting patients transferred to our referral hospitals because they are operating at or near capacity. At least two have already had to start postponing elective procedures to ensure there’s enough space for patients with COVID. We need to keep these larger hospitals from being overwhelmed because we are not equipped to care for the most critically ill patients, COVID or otherwise, at our smaller facilities. While the state’s website indicates that there are approximately 3000 hospital beds still available in the state, many of these beds are at small hospitals that aren’t accepting COVID inpatients at all because they don’t have the ability to provide the care that is needed. And ultimately, beds aren’t the limiting factor, people with the right training are. We’re stretched thin already trying to take on all the added challenges of COVID-19 while still providing all the other important services we always do. When healthcare workers get ill or quarantined due to COVID, it stretches us even further.
This is where we need the community’s help. With any luck, we’re less than 2 months away from being able to start vaccinating our highest risk citizens and getting this moving in the right direction. Every infection we can prevent helps keep our health care system from being overwhelmed so we can be there for everyone. We know what works – limiting close contacts, washing hands, and wearing masks when around others outside your household. In small towns, we’ve always prided ourselves on being there for each other and we need to band together and do it again. This isn’t the time to grumble about how much masking stinks, lament what we can’t do, or turn a health issue into a political issue. Don’t take precautions for the politicians, do it for your neighbors.