This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

POLK COUNTY, Iowa — Polk County hospitals are operating at limited capacity amid a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, local health officials warned Tuesday.

Polk County experienced a 175% increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations over the past three weeks in August, officials said. Hospitals in Polk County are now caring for 109 COVID-19 patients.

“We have not seen a trend in COVID-19 hospitalizations like this since the last COVID-19 surge, which took place in October of 2020,” said Nola Aigner Davis, the communications officer for the Polk County Health Department.

The surge has led to an increase in weekly deaths. Polk County had been recording only one or two COVID-19 deaths per week throughout much of June and July, but those numbers are now on the rise.

“The first full week of August we saw seven COVID-19 related deaths and the numbers are continuing to rise,” said Polk County medical examiner Joshua Akers.

For context, it’s still much lower than the surge last winter when more than 30 people in Polk County were dying each week from COVID-19 complications, but officials say the trend is concerning.

“What is also concerning is that we are beginning to see the average age of decedents getting younger,” said Akers.

Four of the 109 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Polk County are under the age of 18, which is the county’s highest number of COVID-19 patients under 18 since the pandemic began.

The rise in hospitalizations follows a surge in coronavirus cases this month. The number of cases in Polk County from the past weekend has increased 87% since the first weekend in August. As of Aug. 22, Polk County is averaging 120 COVID-19 cases a day. For comparison, Polk County was averaging just 31 COVID-19 cases a day in July.

Health officials expect the surge in cases to continue since school has started and many people are not following COVID-19 mitigation strategies such as wearing masks in public indoor settings. The Polk County Health Department said now is the time for the community to step up and do the right thing.

“Our hospitals are full. Our healthcare workers are tired. Parents and guardians are scared to send their children to schools,” said Helen Eddy, director of the Polk County Health Department. “We implore everyone to step up, once again, and do the right thing for the people you love and care about, for our community and for the 82,000 kids in Polk County who cannot be vaccinated.”

The Polk County Health Department encourages residents to get a COVID-19 vaccine. They are available at pharmacies and from health care providers.

To date, 54.3% of Polk County residents are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to CDC statistics. Among residents eligible to get the vaccine, 65.6% are fully vaccinated.