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Iowa COVID-19 hospitalizations climb to the highest point of 2021 so far

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(KWWL) -- COVID-19 patients continue to fill Iowa hospitals which are seeing an above-average number of patients in general.

Wednesday's update to the state's COVID-19 dashboard shows 638 Iowans hospitalized with the virus, that's 10% more than last week. ICUs across Iowa have 161 COVID-19 patients, leaving 182 intensive care beds available. About 27% of inpatient beds are open across the state.

Most COVID-19 patients right now are unvaccinated, accounting for 80.5% of hospitalizations, while 83.9% of patients in the ICU are not fully vaccinated.

The highest age group in the hospital for COVID-19 are Iowans between the ages of 50-59 at 21%. The next age group up, those 60-69 years-old, account for the second most at 20%. Those younger than 17 make up 3% of this week's hospitalizations which is down about 4% from last week.

However, child cases of COVID-19 have increased "exponentially" as more than 925,000 new pediatric cases were reported in the past 4 weeks, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

At the University of Iowa Stead Family Children's Hospital, there are a handful of COVID-19 patients but about 85% of the beds are in use with a rise in illnesses like RSV.

"What we're worried about is with so much respiratory illness that's already starting now, we're concerned what the upcoming months could be," said University of Iowa Healthcare CEO Suresh Gunasekaran.

RSV and croup are typically pediatric illnesses that arise in the winter months. Gunasekaran says while the numbers are concerning for the system overall, it was much harder to get a bed when cases, hospitalizations, and deaths from COVID-19 peaked at the end of 2020. He says a major challenge now is staffing as more employees leave for a variety of reasons including burnout, better pay, and simply different opportunities. This also affects capacity as much as infections do.

"Given the capacity constraints were having now coming into our second winter. I think patients who have non-COVID care needs are being affected through delays and waiting and those kinds of things," Gunasekaran said.

He worries about the mental health of those working for UIHC as the pandemic continues. The system relies greatly on existing staff to pick up extra shifts to fill the needs in different hospital wards.

"Last year our staff was burdened too but we didn't have the same level of staffing holes that we do today," Gunasekaran said.

He emphasizes that the labor issues aren't unique to the hospital or even to the state. Healthcare is in need of workers nationwide.

"We want to continue to be a great healthcare employer so that folks can see that they want to be a part of our team, that they believe in the mission," Gunasekaran said.

The CEO adds that he wants to show potential staff the cutting edge work that's done at UIHC and the benefits that can come with providing a more complex level of care.