DES MOINES, Iowa — In recent days, Iowa’s COVID-19 numbers have begun to decrease, after weeks of record-breaking numbers. While these dips are welcomed, public health officials fear it may not be a lasting trend.
The end of October brought a drastic spike in positive cases, in what was the beginning of the state’s biggest surge since the start of the pandemic. Cases fluctuated between 1,700 and 5,500 cases every day.
Hospitals across the state described perilous situations, in which beds were near or at full capacity. Doctors and nurses pleaded with the public. Gov. Kim Reynolds reinstated restrictions and even reversed course with a mask-mandate to control the spread.
Now, the seven-day average sits at 1,700 cases — as of Sunday evening. The number of Iowans hospitalized for COVID-19 decreased to 898, the first time that number has dropped below 900 since Nov. 4th.
While it is a start, infectious disease doctors are asking the public to not be blinded by cautious optimism. Dr. Rossana Rosa, an infectious disease physician with UnityPoint Health, said the numbers are ticking down because the exponential growth has stopped.
“Right now, we are actually just coming off of what started in the last week of October,” she said. “We have not seen yet the impact of Thanksgiving, so this is not the time to let our guard down.”
She said the downward tick is part of the pandemic cycle the country has been collectively seeing but is multi-faceted.
“I think that it’s a combination of changing behavior — and somewhat of good weather, that allow[ed] for that downturn. And again, the fact that more stringent measures were put in place.”
Rosa echoed concerns of the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has warned the entire country might see a “surge upon a surge” in the coming weeks after the Thanksgiving holiday.
What Rosa finds troublesome to Iowa is that the current numbers — albeit, decreasing — are still drastically higher than they were in any other points of the pandemic.
“When cases started taking in late October, our plateau was around 1,000 new cases per day. We are now double,” she said. “If the plateau is double than the one we had during the previous surge, it’s a really bad spot.”
Because of the often weeks-long lag as people become infected and head to the hospital for treatment, Rosa fears more exponential growth following Thanksgiving, that might be toppled by gatherings around December holidays.
“If cases start picking up again, then there’s only so much capacity that a hospital can expand within its walls,” she said. “What’s the next step? Putting field hospitals out in the middle of December or early January? It’s a very scary thought.”