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Iowa stopped releasing key hospitalization metric publicly

Hospitals have put visitation restrictions on patients until further notice in Dubuque, Iowa,...
Hospitals have put visitation restrictions on patients until further notice in Dubuque, Iowa, on March 3rd, 2020. (Maggie Wedlake, KCRG)(KCRG)
Published: May. 6, 2020 at 3:24 PM CDT
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The state of Iowa has refused to release the total number of hospitalizations for COVID-19, despite initially publishing that data and Gov. Kim Reynolds citing hospitalization rate as a key metric she is watching.

KCRG-TV9 requested the total number of COVID-19 cases requiring hospitalizations about a month ago. Since then, the governor's office and Iowa Department of Public Health have either refused, at times ignored, and, in some cases, given inaccurate information.

publishes cumulative hospitalization data on its website. So, too, does

. However, Iowa is among several other states that do not publish the total count of patients hospitalized from COVID-19.

has noted data on COVID-19 hospitalizations "are lacking". That's partly why it launched COVID-NET in April, noting that "Ongoing monitoring of hospitalization rates is critical to understanding the evolving epidemiology of COVID-19 in the United States and to guide planning and prioritization of health care resources."

Having the total number of people hospitalized is a key data point to measure hospitalization rate.

It detailed how many patients were in the hospital along with those "discharged and recovering". It even specified the number of patients "never hospitalized".

suddenly removed that data, switching to show only the number of people currently in the hospital and those who have recovered, regardless of whether they had been in the hospital or not. While the state has released significantly more data and metrics, it still does not show the cumulative hospitalizations or hospitalization rate.

We requested that data from the Iowa Governor's Office and Department of Public Health. Their initial response was "this is not how IDPH is tracking hospital information".

That response is contrary to the data IDPH had been publishing days earlier, which included the number of COVID-19 patients "never hospitalized'. We asked if it could continue publishing its previous data but received no reply.

In fact, several counties told KCRG-TV9 they do have and track this data and report to the state.

Black Hawk County reports hospitalization rates to the CDC as part of that COVID-NET project. It is the only county in Iowa taking part as it was also part of a federal flu monitoring program. Its data shows hospitalization rates increasing.

began reporting its total hospitalized this week, saying it is following the state's direction on publishing data.

publishes "total Hospitalizations" on its website, noting all of its data comes in conjunction with the state.

No one could point us to a law that could allow the state to block the release of hospitalization data.

After filing a formal appeal, the Iowa Attorney General's Office told us last week the Department of Public Health planned to release hospitalization by the end of the week. But it only released a county break down of current hospitalizations, not the total hospitalizations nor hospitalization rate. In its response, the Department of Public Health again claimed it did not track data this way, adding "we do not create new reports if they do not serve the business purposes of the state."

We'll continue to press the state to release the public data your tax dollars pay for and that Iowa's leaders say is guiding their decision making.