COVID-19

This illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reveals ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses.

OTTUMWA — More than 8,000 Iowans have now died from the coronavirus, as hospitalizations grew and the number of new cases took a big jump in the last week.

With less than 27% of Iowans having received a full vaccination series plus a booster, the pandemic continued on a surge that began after the Thanksgiving holiday into the new year.

Iowa's hospitalizations were serving 792 patients with COVID-19, up from 711 a week ago. Most are unvaccinated, including 75.9% of those in the hospital and 82% of the 161 patients needing intensive care.

According to new data from the Iowa Department of Public Health, there were 25 children in the hospital, 22 of which were unvaccinated. The biggest driver of current hospitalizations is unvaccinated people aged 60-69 years old.

While the number of those hospitalized is high, it's about half of the November 2020 spike of 1,510. Experts believe while the omicron variant of the coronavirus is much more transmissible than previous variants of the virus, it causes less severe illness especially among those who are vaccinated.

Specialists with the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics told media Wednesday they expect Iowa's peak from the omicron variant won't be until late January. Until then, they urged Iowans to get vaccinated and wear masks.

Dr. Daniel Diekema, an infectious disease expert at the University of Iowa, said case counts can't be totally disregarded even with the typically less severe illnesses caused by omicron.

"I'm still paying attention to case rates, with the understanding that if there's limited test availability, those case rates will be misleadingly low," he said. "And, if more and more people are doing at-home tests but not confirm those tests, then also reported case rates can be misleadingly low."

Those who are unvaccinated or those with compromised immune systems remain at high-risk to omicron, he said. He also urged people who are vaccinated to get a booster dose if they haven't already.

"For those who haven't been vaccinated, getting vaccinated is key," Diekema said. "For those who have been vaccinated, but not yet received a booster dose, getting that booster dose is also key."

Mike Brownlee, the chief pharmacy officer at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, urged children to be vaccinated. Currently, children as young as 5 years old can be vaccinated.

With 161 new deaths reported in the state, the number killed in Iowa since the pandemic began in March 2020 stands at 8,019. Deaths are reported on a delay, meaning they most likely did not occur within the last week.

"The numbers are sometimes just mind-numbing that we have to remind ourselves of what devastation this virus has wrought," Diekema said. "It's absolutely tragic."

State data showed 19,045 new positive tests with the coronavirus in the seven-day period ending Tuesday. That's an average of over 2,700 per day.

The jump in cases, which is the most since November 2020, comes as the omicron variant of the coronavirus is believed to have taken over as the region's dominant variant. In data published Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, omicron was believed to account for 77% of new coronavirus cases in a four-state region that includes Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska and Kansas.

Diekema told media he believes more than 80% of Iowa's new COVID-19 cases are believed to be caused by the omicron variant. The variant's rise to a dominant strain in Iowa comes about six weeks after it was first reported in Africa.

According to CDC data, about 9,000 more Iowans became fully vaccinated in the last week and another 37,643 received a booster dose of the vaccine.

About 58.5% of Iowa's total population is considered fully vaccinated, and 26.6% has received a booster dose. About 189,000 Iowans have received the first dose of a vaccine, but haven't completed their vaccination series.

Wapello County

Over the last week, Wapello County added 151 new cases of the coronavirus, state data reported. There were four new deaths reported in the county during that time period. Since the pandemic began, COVID-19 has been blamed for the deaths of 161 Wapello County residents.

Wapello ranks 80th in the state in terms of vaccinations, according to CDC data. As of Wednesday, 47.6%, or 16,628, of the county's residents were fully vaccinated. That's 85 more than were fully vaccinated last week.

Appanoose County

Over the last week, Appanoose County added 54 new cases of the coronavirus, state data reported. There were no new deaths reported in the county during that time period. Since the pandemic began, COVID-19 has been blamed for the deaths of 59 Appanoose County residents.

Appanoose ranks 88th in the state in terms of vaccinations, according to CDC data. As of Wednesday, 45.2%, or 5,619, of the county's residents were fully vaccinated.

Davis County

Over the last week, Davis County added 28 new cases of the coronavirus, state data reported. There were one new deaths reported in the county during that time period. Since the pandemic began, COVID-19 has been blamed for the deaths of 27 Davis County residents.

Davis ranks 99th in the state in terms of vaccinations, according to CDC data. As of Wednesday, 35.3%, or 3,173, of the county's residents were fully vaccinated.

Jefferson County

Over the last week, Jefferson County added 68 new cases of the coronavirus, state data reported. There were no new deaths reported in the county during that time period. Since the pandemic began, COVID-19 has been blamed for the deaths of 44 Jefferson County residents.

Jefferson ranks 86th in the state in terms of vaccinations, according to CDC data. As of Wednesday, 46.4%, or 8,483, of the county's residents were fully vaccinated.

Monroe County

Over the last week, Monroe County added 20 new cases of the coronavirus, state data reported. There were no new deaths reported in the county during that time period. Since the pandemic began, COVID-19 has been blamed for the deaths of 43 Monroe County residents.

Monroe ranks 90th in the state in terms of vaccinations, according to CDC data. As of Wednesday, 44.4%, or 3,420, of the county's residents were fully vaccinated.

Van Buren County

Over the last week, Van Buren County added 31 new cases of the coronavirus, state data reported. There were no new deaths reported in the county during that time period. Since the pandemic began, COVID-19 has been blamed for the deaths of 24 Van Buren County residents.

Van Buren ranks 94th in the state in terms of vaccinations, according to CDC data. As of Wednesday, 40.7%, or 2,865, of the county's residents were fully vaccinated.

Kyle Ocker is the editor of the Ottumwa Courier and the Oskaloosa Herald. He can be reached at kocker@ottumwacourier.com. Follow him on Twitter @Kyle_Ocker.

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Kyle Ocker is a Centerville native and award-winning multimedia journalist. Kyle is currently the president of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and vice president of the Iowa Print Sports Writers Association.

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