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Iowa doctors say virus spread risks overwhelming hospitals

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa’s number of coronavirus cases, deaths and hospitalizations continued to surge higher Wednesday as medical professionals have begun to express concern that hospitals could be overwhelmed with patients if no action is taken to slow the virus spread.

Iowa hospitals had 596 coronavirus patients Wednesday, by far the highest number so far in Iowa. The 113 patients admitted in the past 24 hours also was the highest seen since the virus surfaced in Iowa in March. The number of patients needing intensive care unit services has also trended upward in the past month.

Iowa doctors and hospital officials are preparing for a system overrun by COVID patients by talking about how to transfer patients between hospitals and enacting surge plans that could turn non-hospital facilities into spots to handle any overflow.

“What we know is if the last four weeks are indicative of what happens over the next four weeks we will have the system overwhelmed,” said Suresh Gunasekaran, CEO of University Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City. “If hospitalizations continue to increase at the exact same rate they have been for weeks, the math itself tells you that you run out of beds.”

University hospitals, the state’s only academic medical center, is often where other hospitals send patients with complex intensive care needs. It is seeing a significant volume of COVID-19 patients from around the state, Gunasekaran said.


He said Iowans need to understand that the coronavirus patient surge often displaces the ability to care for patients with other complex needs stemming from problems such as heart disease, cancer or neurological conditions.

State public health officials reported 1,814 new confirmed cases Wednesday and an additional 22 deaths for a total of 1,680.

Over the past two weeks, the rolling average number of daily new cases has increased by 249, an increase of nearly 23%, according to researchers from Johns Hopkins University. Iowa has averaged about 1,400 new cases a day for the past week.

“My take away from this is that things are bad but also they can and will likely get much worse because the number of new cases is just staggering,” said Dr. Rosanna Rosa, an infectious disease doctor with UnityPoint Health.

A spokesman for the Iowa Department of Public Health said the state is in regular, often daily, contact with health systems, hospitals and regional medical coordination centers to assess hospital capacity, staffing and resources.

“At this time, hospitals are reporting that they are able to manage the increased number of patients, and are prepared to implement surge plans to expand capacity if necessary,” spokesman Alex Carfrae wrote in an email.

He said staffing shortages can occur during times of seasonal illness or viral outbreaks and hospitals have a variety of solutions to maintain adequate staffing levels.

Rosa said a better public health approach would be to make it clear to Iowans that these illnesses and deaths are preventable, a point made in a recent report from the White House Coronavirus

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