We stand ready to lead Iowa through the COVID crisis
As Iowa enters the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, the state’s coronavirus statistics indicate that there have been more than 215,000 positive COVID-19 cases and more than 2,200 COVID-related deaths. Currently there are approximately 1,300 hospitalized patients with COVID-19 in Iowa.
While these numbers are sobering, there are signs for optimism. It’s important to note that the number of hospitalized patients across the state has declined by more than 200 inpatients from over 1,500 patients just a couple of weeks ago—a positive sign, although Thanksgiving gatherings could cause coronavirus numbers to increase again.
Here at University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics, the number of COVID-positive cases on Nov. 24 stood at 102 out of 489 symptomatic patients tested—a 21% positivity rate. This number is considerably lower than our peak of 221 positive cases tested on Nov. 5 (30% positivity rate). Our number of COVID inpatients on Nov. 24 was 77, which is down 22% from a peak of 99 just last week.
In addition, this week we began providing Bamlanivimab, a monoclonal antibody infusion to outpatients with mild to moderate COVID symptoms that has the potential to significantly reduce subsequent hospitalizations. Also, Regeneron monoclonal antibody therapy recently received emergency-use authorization from the FDA, which means we will offer this treatment very soon. Plus, we expect to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech Vaccine (Comiranty) from the Iowa Department of Public Health around mid-December, with the first doses planned for health care workers. We’ve added specialized freezer units at our health care facilities that will allow us to store up to 60,000 vaccine doses.
These measures are in addition to the COVID care, monitoring, and clinical trials we’ve been doing since the spring. This includes our Home Treatment Team, a “virtual hospital” model that provides daily care and support to non-hospitalized patients with COVID. Patients track their vital signs and receive virtual follow-up visits via phone or video from their homes—providing the care patients need while helping maintain the availability of inpatient beds.
However, community transmission and positivity rates remain a concern, and high rates of hospitalizations across Iowa continue to be a strain on the system. You’ve probably seen the news reports that some Iowa hospitals risk running out of beds and intensive care capabilities, and not having adequate numbers of staff to care for patients.
The situation remains serious, but Iowans should know that UI Health Care and our Iowa hospital partners stand ready to respond to any current or future influx of patients with COVID. Our health system is stretched right now, but it’s also working collaboratively to meet the need. Since the coronavirus first reached Iowa, we have monitored the numbers across the state—and we developed plans in anticipation of a surge.
As the state’s only academic tertiary medical center, UI Hospitals & Clinics accepts the most patient transfers in Iowa. The state’s community hospitals count on us to accept and treat the most complex cases. As we watched the number of COVID cases and hospitalizations go up across Iowa, we adjusted our operations—postponing nonessential surgeries and procedures and reassigning some patient care staff, for example—to create necessary bed space and adequate staffing levels to support our community partners.
We’ve taken these steps because we have the expertise, capability and flexibility to do so. More important, we’ve taken these steps because it’s our responsibility and obligation as a state institution. Iowans need to know that our academic health system has been and remains ready to accept patients with COVID from other hospitals, offer new and emerging treatments, and collaborate on vaccine trials that will help end this pandemic.
We’re not doing this alone. Throughout the pandemic, we’ve been working with other hospitals and providers, public health officials, government leaders, and the public to prepare and respond.
Make no mistake: Conditions in Iowa remain extremely serious. And frankly, how we Iowans respond to the pandemic at home and in our communities—this week and over the next several weeks past the New Year—will determine whether Iowa hospitals continue to face capacity and capability challenges.
We’re all experiencing “pandemic fatigue,” and the prospect of a vaccine and new treatments in the coming months is encouraging. But now at this critical time—with the holidays upon us—the need to follow the safety guidelines and make the sacrifices needed to reduce the number of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations is greater than ever.
This editorial was published in the Iowa City Press-Citizen on Nov. 25, 2020.