Iowa starts 2022 with more than 20,000 new reported COVID cases, more than any week in 2021

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By Nick Coltrain and Tim Webber, Des Moines Register

Iowa has entered 2022 accumulating COVID-19 cases at a rate faster than it ever reached in 2021, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health’s weekly data released on Wednesday.

The state reported 20,075 new cases over the previous week, the most since November 2020. That’s an average of 2,868 cases per day. Much of the current wave has been fueled by the highly contagious omicron variant. The Centers for Disease Control said Tuesday omicron is the current predominant strain in Iowa.

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Dr. Dan Diekema, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Iowa, estimated Wednesday that the variant may be the cause of 80% to 90% of all new COVID-19 cases in the state.

“To date, it really is the most successful viral variant in terms of its ability to spread in human populations,” Diekema said. “It’s really arrived in the state of Iowa in force.”

The variant has proven more evasive against the vaccines than earlier strains of the coronavirus. However, he added, they “are still highly effective at preventing severe disease and hospitalization” from the disease. The booster shots, in particular, seem to be highly protective against the disease, Diekema said.

The state reported on Wednesday 792 people in Iowa’s hospitals with COVID-19 — the first increase after three weeks of decline during the state’s Wednesday updates. Of them 75% were not fully vaccinated.  The total number of people hospitalized concurrently on Wednesday was exceeded only once among 2021’s weekly updates.

Among the 161 COVID-19 patients in intensive care units, 82% were not fully vaccinated. Ninety-nine patients were on ventilators. Diekema said when he last checked the vaccination status of ventilated patients’ a few days ago, none were fully vaccinated.

The state’s positivity rate is also rising. Over the past 14 days, 14.9% of tests for COVID-19 have come back positive, including 18% of those taken in the past week and at least 20% on each day of 2022 so far.

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University doctors expect Iowa’s omicron peak around end of the month

Based on countries that were swept by omicron earlier in 2021, Diekema thinks the United States will hit its peak of omicron cases within the couple of weeks. But because it overtook the delta strain in Iowa a few weeks after most of the rest of the country, he expects Iowa will see its omicron peak around the end of January or the first week of February.

But, he noted, “anyone’s guess is almost as valid as anyone else’s,” referring to the unpredictable nature of the pandemic.

Dr. Mike Brownlee, chief pharmacy officer for the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, noted that in South Africa the number of cases rose dramatically, but dropped steeply after peaking. He likewise estimated an end-of-January peak in Iowa.

“We’re hopeful to see that our hospitalizations don’t peak to the levels that they were with delta,” he said. “We’re watching it closely. We think the peak is coming here toward the end of January, and we’re hopeful that it will drop off precipitously.”

Omicron may be less severe, but officials warn ‘sheer volume of cases’ could overwhelm system

Nationally, the CDC is reporting an average of about 491,700 confirmed cases of COVID-19 per day over the prior week — nearly double what it reported a week before. But, initial studies appear to show the cases are milder, especially among those who are fully vaccinated and boosted.

That doesn’t mean it’s not a threat to individuals, hospital systems, or society.

“The sheer volume of the number of cases, that may be of a reduced severity, but could still stress our hospital system, because a certain proportion of a large volume of cases, no matter what are going to be severe” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the federal government’s leading infectious disease specialist, said during a briefing Wednesday.

High community spread also puts the health care workforce at risk, even if they aren’t hospitalized, if too many people get sick and need to call out, or if their children get sick and need their parent at home, the Iowa doctors warned.

Children younger than 18accounted for about 13% of new positive tests in the past week, or about 2,600. Since Jan 1, 27 children have been hospitalized with COVID-19, though that includes children hospitalized for other factors while they happened to have the disease.

People following mitigation measures, including wearing masks — preferably medical grade — and social distancing will help tamp down the spread, they said. Brownlee acknowledged the recommendations are “painful,” and that everyone is suffering pandemic fatigue.

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“There’s no question that relaxing many of these measures was one of the things that led to the delta surge, and also a key reason why these variants of concern keep emerging,” Brownlee said. “The virus can’t mutate, and new variants can’t emerge, if the virus isn’t replicating, if transmission isn’t going on.”

Vaccinations continued to increase at a rate similar to the past several months — the percentage of fully vaccinated Iowans increased about a third of a percentage point, to 56.1%, according to IDPH. Of those fully vaccinated Iowans, about 46% have also received a booster dose.

The state also reported the number of COVID-19 deaths in Iowa has exceeded 8,000 since the start of the pandemic, reaching 8,019 in Wednesday’s update. That’s an increase of 161 since last week’s update, and the most reported in a single week in nearly a year. The deaths reported Wednesday occurred between mid-October and the end of 2021.

The latest COVID-19 numbers in Iowa

 

The latest data, as of 10 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 5, compared to the previous Wednesday.

Confirmed cases: 594,588, an increase of 20,075

Deaths: 8,019, an increase of 161

Total tested: 2,303,834

Total recovered: 534,907

Statewide 14-day positivity rate: 14.9%

How many people are hospitalized with COVID-19 in Iowa?

Hospitalizations: 792, up from 711 one week ago

Patients in ICU: 161, down from 165

Patients on ventilators: 99, up from 97

How many people in Polk and Dallas counties are vaccinated?

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In Polk County, 309,997 residents (63%) are fully vaccinated, an increase of 2,000 (0.4 percentage points) since last week.

In Dallas County, 59,563 residents (64%) are fully vaccinated, an increase of 457 (0.5 percentage points)

The five counties in Iowa with the highest percentage of their population fully vaccinated as of Jan. 5 are Johnson (68%), Buena Vista (64%), Dallas (64%), Polk (63%) and Linn (63%) counties.

For a county-by-county look at the vaccination rollout, see our COVID-19 vaccine tracker, which is updated weekly.

Nick Coltrain is a politics and data reporter for the Register. Reach him at [email protected] or at 515-284-8361.

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