December continues to set COVID records for 2021 in Iowa.
Hospitalizations are up, the average age of a hospitalized person with COVID is down, and the number of cases is steadily at a high number, according to state data.
Unsurprisingly, the majority of COVID patients in hospitals—82.7%—are unvaccinated.
As of Tuesday, 823 patients in the hospital have COVID and 173 of those are in the intensive-care unit. The age group with the most hospitalizations is 60-69. Iowa has had a total of 552,898 confirmed COVID cases throughout the pandemic.
Additionally, 103 COVID patients were on a ventilator Tuesday.
While younger people are less frequently hospitalized, Iowans aged 18-29 make up the highest percentage of COVID cases in the last seven days. Followed closely by 30-39-year-olds and 0-17-year-olds.
People in those age groups are generally less likely to be vaccinated than older adults.
State data shows 86% of Iowans older than 65 are fully vaccinated. Only 47% of 30-39-year-olds are, and 46% of Iowans 18-19 are fully vaccinated.
Vaccines were not authorized for children aged 5-17 until recently, but older youth are starting to catch up to adult vaccination rates. About 47% of 16-17-year-olds are vaccinated and 42% of 12-15-year-olds, while 5-11-year-olds are only at about 11%.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is the only one authorized for those age groups.
COVID deaths are still increasing, too.
As of Tuesday, 7,680 Iowans have died of COVID-19. This was an increase of 130 from last week, according to that state. Publicly reporting COVID deaths takes time, so not all of those deaths happened in the last week.
To make matters worse, staffing shortages have limited hospitals for months—years in the case of nursing shortages—and are still an issue. Iowa is contracting 100 traveling nurses and respiratory therapists for 17 Iowa hospitals to provide some relief.
Iowa Department of Public Health spokesperson Sarah Ekstrand said federal funds will cover the cost.
According to New York Times data, Iowa has an average of 27 people hospitalized per 100,000 people, a 19% increase in the last two weeks.
COVID patients are normally hospitalized for longer and often require intense levels of care. Nurses in the ICU can only properly care for one or two patients, and so when ICUs fill up, hospitals have to juggle existing staff to safely, effectively care for patients.
“We’re stretching thin sometimes the staff we have,” said Dr. Michael McCoy, chief medical officer for Southeast Iowa Regional Medical Center in West Burlington, in September. “And oftentimes they’re doing things a little past comfort zone. So what they would like to do or what they’re used to doing because of the need.”
by Nikoel Hytrek