Iowa stops tracking home county of COVID hospital patients

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa public health officials have stopped requiring hospitals to report the home county of patients being treated for COVID-19, even as all 99 counties have a high rate of spread and hospitalizations are at their highest level since early October.

Iowa Department of Public Health spokeswoman Sarah Ekstrand on Tuesday confirmed the change in reporting requirements. The change in policy was first reported by the independent news organization Iowa Capital Dispatch.

Ekstrand said that early in the pandemic the home county was used to help public health officials track virus activity and seriousness of infection, but it is no longer needed for that purpose.

“Existing data collection related to county specific trends provides an appropriate understanding of disease trends,” she said.

The department is trying to ease hospital reporting requirements because Iowa hospitals are facing staffing shortages, she said.

Dr. Megan Srinivas, an Iowa-based infectious disease physician and public health researcher, expressed concern about the policy change because it hampers local public health efforts and reduces transparency for the general public.

“Home county is a key factor in tracking outbreaks and enabling appropriate public health mitigation in a timely manner,” she said.

Iowa has reduced other aspects of its COVID-19 reporting as Gov. Kim Reynolds has said Iowans must move into a recovery phase of the pandemic, learn to live with the virus and get on with their lives. The state stopped daily updates in July, when other states with Republican governors also cut back on data releases.

Iowa has seen increased hospitalizations since early November. It had 623 COVID-19 patients in the hospital as of Monday with 146 in intensive care. Among those hospitalized were five unvaccinated children under the age of 11 and another five unvaccinated children between ages 11 and 17.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention listed all of Iowa’s 99 counties as having a high level of community spread on Tuesday.

Iowa has 56.5% of its population fully vaccinated, ranking the state 24th in the nation.

Iowa has experienced increased cases this month as colder weather set in. The state seven-day moving average is 1,317 cases a day, up from fewer than 1,000 cases a day at the beginning of November.