Lakes Regional Healthcare (LRH) has recently noticed changes among the COVID-19 positivity rate, hospitalizations, and vaccinations. The number of LRH patients hospitalized for COVID-19 has increased in the last week, and the demographics of the patients has been interesting. LRH had a spike in COVID hospitalizations in mid-December, and the vast majority at that time were over age 60. In the past two weeks the majority of their COVID inpatients have been aged 30 to 60.
In addition to the change in inpatient demographics, Dickinson County’s positivity rate has increased. It is currently 13.5%, which is the highest in Iowa next to Fremont County’s 16% rate. According to LRH Chief Nursing Officer Chris Ingraham, Dickinson County’s positivity rate may be the result of three things. First, people may have developed a false sense of security due to the availability of the vaccine and a decrease in cases and hospitalizations from late January through mid-March. “Between January 28 and March 15, we had only one COVID inpatient,” he said. “It may have given many people the impression that we were over the hump and nearing the end of COVID. Although it appears we have many people in the county wearing masks, social distancing, and getting the vaccine, perhaps these mitigation efforts have waned a bit. Now we’ve recently experienced an increase in COVID hospitalizations again – reaching up to six COVID inpatients at one time this past week.”
Ingraham pointed out another factor that may have affected the higher positivity rate. He said the number of people getting tested for COVID-19 has decreased. Months ago the Test Iowa Clinic was testing an average of 800 people each week compared to roughly 200 weekly tests now. Ingraham said, “We’re finding that a higher percentage of people that get tested are positive now. Maybe people aren’t coming in until they are definitely not feeling well versus coming in if they’ve been exposed to someone with COVID or have a slight concern about whether or not they are sick. This can affect the positivity rate tremendously.”
A few weeks ago LRH announced they would be closing their Test Iowa Clinic as a result of the decrease in people being tested. Due to the uptick in cases and hospitalizations, they reversed their decision this week. The clinic will now continue to operate, but its location will move to Lakes Regional Family Medicine beginning Monday, April 19. The hours will also change to Monday through Friday from 8:00 am until 10:00 am.
Ingraham mentioned a third possibility for the rise in the positivity rate. The first diagnosis of COVID-19’s UK variant in Dickinson County was first identified in early March. Since then, hospitalizations and cases have increased. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this variant is more contagious than the original strain. Ingraham said, “Since the variant is more contagious, that may be impacting our increase in cases.”
Meanwhile, Dickinson County Public Health (DCPH) has been diligently providing COVID-19 vaccinations as soon as vaccine is received from the state. LRH Director of Population and Public Health Katy Burke said they’ve administered nearly 7,000 doses to date, which doesn’t include the number of doses administered by area pharmacies and within assisted living facilities and nursing homes. She said, “Dickinson County Public Health prioritized administering the vaccine to those at highest risk of having severe complications from COVID-19 first, which were those ages 65 and older as well as those with underlying health conditions and individuals at greater risk of infection due to their work. We’ve vaccinated everyone in that category who has expressed interest in receiving the vaccine, and now that the state of Iowa opened up eligibility, we have recently started administering it to people ages 18 and above with our Moderna supply.”
DCPH has held at least two COVID-19 vaccination clinics each week since December 22. Burke said appointments for the clinics filled up almost immediately until this week. She said, “We have COVID-19 vaccination clinics scheduled for Wednesday, April 14 and Thursday, April 15 and encourage people to sign up. We know there are other locations in which to receive the vaccine, which we appreciate, and hope people are getting the vaccine elsewhere if not through us.”