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COVID spreads to rural Iowa as hospitalizations hit record highs
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COVID spreads to rural Iowa as hospitalizations hit record highs

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JOHNSTON — The worst of the COVID-19 pandemic in Iowa appears to have moved from college campuses to more rural pockets, particularly in northwest Iowa.

And COVID-related hospitalizations statewide continue to soar to new highs.

As of Wednesday, the state’s highest positive case rate was in Lyon County, the most northwest county in the state, on the South Dakota and Minnesota borders. Lyon County’s two-week average positive case rate was 31.5%, according to state public health data. Anything over 10% concerns public health officials.

Just to the south, Sioux County’s two-week average rate is 24.8%, and just to the east, O’Brien County is at 18.3% and Osceola County is at 17.2%.

Traveling south along the Missouri River, Plymouth County is at 15.2% and Woodbury at 14.8%.

Overall, 20 of the 28 counties in Iowa’s northwest quadrant have two-week average rates of 10% or more.

Gov. Kim Reynolds said Wednesday that the virus activity in northwest Iowa appears to be simple community spread of the virus, not tied to any specific outbreaks.

“It’s indicative, I think, of what we’ve seen with community spread. It’s more general population,” Reynolds said during a news conference at Iowa PBS studios.

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Southwest Iowa also has some high rates, with Taylor County at 22.1%, Page at 21.2%, and Fremont at 19%.

Meantime, virus activity appears to be slowing in other areas — including the state’s most populous counties — where in recent weeks it had been surging.

Polk, Story, Linn, Black Hawk, and Johnson counties all have two-week average positive case rates under 6.5%, according to state public health data.

Roughly a month ago, those counties had much higher rates --- Story County’s, for example, surged above 20% --- as cases spiked after college students returned to campus for the fall semester.

Statewide, Iowa continues to see record numbers of COVID-related hospitalizations.

There were 444 people hospitalized in Iowa for COVID-related issues, a new high for the state during the pandemic.

And the two-week average of new admissions continued to soar, reaching 61.2. That number’s previous peak during the summer was 39.6, in early May.

For the second straight week, Reynolds said that despite the surges in hospitalizations, Iowa’s health care providers are telling her they are not yet overwhelmed by patients or running low on personal protective equipment. Reynolds said her staff is in constant communication with health care leaders across the state, and praised the different health care companies for their collaborative work in addressing the pandemic. She said those systems have plans in place for surges like the one Iowa is currently experiencing, and she said no hospitals have had to turn away patients.

“This is disappointing news, and sadly it’s what can happen when we are experiencing community spread,” Reynolds said of the record hospitalizations. “Even though the number of Iowans hospitalized is the highest it’s been, we’ve not approached the peak of our hospital capacity. Our health care system in Iowa is strong, and for that we are grateful.”

Roughly 35% of in-patient beds across the state are available, and 432 intensive care beds remain open, according to state public health data. The number of available ICU beds has never dropped below 340 during the pandemic, according to the state.

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