With hospitalizations related to severe COVID-19 infections more than doubling over the past month, groups representing physician and nurse leaders of Iowa’s hospitals and health care systems today issued a joint statement emphasizing the need for the public to help prevent further spread of the virus. 

“In recent weeks, we have seen COVID-19 cases trending upward statewide and hospitalizations have more than doubled in the past month,” according to the joint statement from the Iowa Hospital Association’s physician leadership group and the Iowa Organization for Nursing Leadership. 

“This alarming increase puts our entire health care workforce at risk. If these trends continue, physicians, nurses and support staff who have been on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic since March will suffer additional stress and risk infection, illness and death.”

Signed by more than 700 health care leaders, the statement emphasized: “The simple acts of wearing masks, washing hands and physically distancing are the most effective tools we have in the fight against COVID-19. It is incumbent on each of us to do all we can to limit the spread.” 

On a teleconference call with reporters, several front-line physicians shared their experiences with reporters about the toll that spiking hospitalizations have taken. 

Dr. Tammy Chance, medical director of quality initiatives at Boone County Hospital, noted that the health region encompassing Boone and other Central Iowa counties, including Greater Des Moines, last week had only one to two available intensive care unit beds available. “That’s really scary,” she said. 

The health and availability of medical and nursing staff are even more limiting factors than beds, said Dr. Michael McCoy, chief medical officer with Great River Health in West Burlington. 

“I think for us, we’re going to run out of staff before we run out of beds,” McCoy said. “We’ve already stopped doing almost all of our elective surgeries. Ninety-seven employees from our hospital were not at work yesterday because of various COVID-related things. Once the hospital and health system are saturated, it’s going to be very hard for patients to get the care that they deserve.”

Iowa hospitals and health care facilities will continue requiring staff, patients and visitors to follow public safety protocols, including mask-wearing, screenings when entering our facilities, and limiting access to visitors and caregivers. Health officials remind the public to:

• Avoid crowds and gatherings.
• Cover your mouth when you cough.
• Stay at least 6 feet apart.
• Stay home if you are experiencing any respiratory or unexplained symptoms, such as a fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, loss of taste or smell, or other common COVID-19 symptoms.
• Wash your hands frequently.
• Wear a mask.
• Get your flu shot.

Dr. Hijinio Carreon, chief medical officer of MercyOne Des Moines, noted that a further influx of COVID-19 patients could overwhelm the hospital systems, particularly as hospitals continue to deal with everyday non-COVID health issues. 

“If we don’t as a community rally around our community health systems, we could be in a dire situation over the next couple of weeks,” he said.