Iowa scales back data on COVID-19 hospitalizations

Data collection added to hospital burden, state says

Guest services staff will wait for arriving patients, employees, and visitors on April 13, 2020 at the main entrance of the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. That week, UIHC received a $2 million gift from the Richard O. Jacobson Foundation to help the hospital and its staff fight the COVID-19 pandemic. (The Official Gazette)

Sarah Ekstrand, a spokesperson for the Iowa Department of Public Health, said it was inconvenient and unnecessary for hospitals to report the country of residence of Iowans receiving clinical treatment for COVID-19.

As such, the department no longer requires hospitals to report the information, which the state previously published online. A page about the state coronavirus website containing the information was recently removed — a change first noted by the Iowa Falls Times Citizen.

“Hospitals in Iowa continue to be stressed due to staffing levels, and any effort IDPH can make to reduce the burden on hospitals will provide much-needed relief,” Ekstrand told the Iowa Capital Dispatch.

It is unclear how much time it took the hospitals to collect and submit the information.

Ekstrand said state health officials used it to monitor infection trends early in the pandemic, but they are now relying on other “existing data collection.” She didn’t work out.

Hospital admissions on the rise

The change comes amid a three-week rise in hospitalizations from COVID-19, according to state data. There were 623 people who received inpatient treatment on Wednesday — a 34 percent increase since Nov. 4 — and 146 received intensive care.

The state reports how many current hospitalizations there are in six regions that cover large swathes of the state. One of the regions has more than 20 provinces.

The overall infection rate in the state has continued to rise throughout the month, leading up to Thanksgiving, and a significant number of vacationers at airports were expected to approach the pre-pandemic number.

The state records an average of more than 1,500 new COVID-19 cases per day, up from about 1,100 in early November.

The populous counties with the highest number of average daily cases are Polk with about 200, Dubuque and Linn with about 100, and Johnson with 80.

Johnson County’s infection rate is the highest since late November. About a third of those infected in the past week were children.

There are pockets of virus hotspots in rural parts of the state. Ida County in Western Iowa and Jackson County along the Mississippi River have rising infection rates, and Decatur on the state’s southern border has the highest rate of the pandemic, with 114 cases in a recent two-week period.

In far north Iowa, Cerro Gordo, Hancock and Winnebago counties report their highest infection rates since November and December. Together they accounted for about 900 cases in the past two weeks.

This article first appeared in the Iowa Capital Dispatch.


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