Surge continues

Hospitals deal with worker shortages; Webster County’s COVID positivity rate has doubled

Multiple cars could be seen in line near Community Health Center’s COVID-19 testing site on Wednesday.

The line appeared to be steady during the late morning and early afternoon hours, a sign that a high number of residents continue to feel ill as COVID variants and other illnesses spread. Webster County’s positivity rate has been climbing. It has more than doubled its COVID positivity rate in one week.

Meanwhile, hospitals like UnityPoint Health — Trinity Regional Medical Center continue to deal with staff shortages as health care workers themselves become ill.

“Health care workers aren’t immune to illness either,” said Shannon McQuillen, vice president of people excellence for UnityPoint Health — Fort Dodge. “We have a number of team members who are out in general due to illness — COVID and lots of other things.”

It’s a trend shared by hospitals nationwide. Hospitals are dealing with serious staff shortages because so many health care workers are getting sick with the fast-spreading variant Omicron. People are showing up at emergency rooms in large numbers in hopes of getting tested for COVID-19, putting more strain on the system. And a surprising share of patients — two-thirds in some places — are testing positive while in the hospital for other reasons.

Some hospitals are reporting as much as one quarter of their staff out for virus-related reasons, said Kiyomi Burchill, the California Hospital Association’s vice president for policy and leader on pandemic matters.

McQuillen said when health care workers do become ill, it can take several days before they can return.

“We have such strict protocol that we have to follow,” she said. “So if they are showing any signs or symptoms they can’t come back to work without a negative test or without showing symptoms.”

One of the consequences of being shorthanded is the need for healthy workers to take on extra shifts.

“We have been experiencing that (worker shortage) even prior to this surge again,” McQuillen said. “We have had for a while now a lot of incentives for team members to work extra shifts. It continues even with team members being out ill. We continue to have open shifts and asking people to pick up extra.”

Community transmission across Iowa is rated as high, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. From Dec. 29, 2021 to Jan. 5, 2022, there have been 20,075 new COVID cases in Iowa. There have been 161 deaths during that time. Almost 800 are currently hospitalized in the state.

AS THE SURGE CONTINUES, companies are again considering their mask policy.

Ogden Newspapers, the parent company of The Messenger, announced a policy on Tuesday that requires employees to be masked when indoors regardless of vaccination status.

About 85,000 Americans are in the hospital with COVID-19, just short of the delta-surge peak of about 94,000 in early September, according to the CDC. The all-time high during the pandemic was about 125,000 in January of last year.

But the hospitalization numbers do not tell the whole story. Some cases in the official count involve COVID-19 infections that weren’t what put the patients in the hospital in the first place.

Dr. Fritz Francois, chief of hospital operations at NYU Langone Health in New York City, said about 65% of patients admitted to that system with COVID-19 recently were primarily hospitalized for something else and were incidentally found to have the virus.

At two large Seattle hospitals over the past two weeks, three-quarters of the 64 patients testing positive for the coronavirus were admitted with a primary diagnosis other than COVID-19.

Joanne Spetz, associate director of research at the Healthforce Center at the University of California, San Francisco, said the rising number of cases like that is both good and bad.

The lack of symptoms shows vaccines, boosters and natural immunity from prior infections are working, she said. The bad news is that the numbers mean the coronavirus is spreading rapidly, and some percentage of those people will wind up needing hospitalization.

This week, 36% of California hospitals reported critical staffing shortages. And 40% are expecting such shortages.

Locally, about 90% of hospitalizations are those who are unvaccinated.

Health care professionals throughout the community have continued to state the importance of residents getting vaccinated.


Kari Prescott, director of the Webster County Health Department, advises people to wait to be tested if they aren’t feeling well.

“If you believe that you have been exposed to a person with COVID-19, wait five days before testing,” Prescott said. “If you test too soon, you will probably not get an accurate result. Don’t test just because you have a headache or a sniffle. Wait to see what symptoms might develop. Please stay home if you aren’t feeling well.”

Prescott said health care providers remain busy.

“Our health care providers in Webster County are extremely busy due to COVID testing, COVID positive individuals, influenza and typical winter viruses,” Prescott said. If you are sick, stay home. Wash your hands, cover your cough, and wear a mask when you are in close contact with other individuals.”

Prescott added, “Webster County Health Department was asked by our health care partners to open testing clinics to help offset the high volume of patients that are needing to be seen. We have held four clinics so far and will be holding another on Friday. We have the capacity to test 100 individuals in a day.”

WCHD’s testing clinic will be held Friday, at its Family Planning Clinic location, 310 Second Ave. S. Individuals are asked to register for an appointment online at WebsterCountyIA.gov. Appointments are required.

If you have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 and you are fully vaccinated and boosted and do not have symptoms, Prescott said use a mask when around others and consider testing on day 5 if you develop symptoms. If you were exposed to someone with COVID-19 and do have symptoms, strict use of a mask when around others is recommended. If you tested positive, stay home, wear a mask around family members and try to avoid sharing common space in the home.

Day 0 is the first day of symptoms or positive test date if you have no symptoms, she said. If your symptoms have resolved on day 5 and you have not had a fever for 24hours you may end isolation and mask for the next 5 days. If you still have a fever and symptoms beyond day Day 5, you should continue to isolate until symptoms resolve and no fever for 24 hours. Wear a mask until 10 days from symptom onset.

Testing is readily available in Webster County through TestIowa locations, Webster County Health Department, health care facilities, pharmacies, and community partners.

The COVID Hotline is still available for those with questions or concerns at 515-227-7153 .


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