Editorial: Falling cases are ‘cause for optimism,’ but we shouldn’t let down our guard

The number of COVID-19 cases in Indiana is falling again, which is welcome news. In fact, the number of positive tests reported to the Indiana State Department of Health has been down three weeks in a row.

And—as of Wednesday—the state’s positivity rate had fallen to less than 10% for the first time in weeks.

That’s “cause for optimism,” said the state’s health commissioner, Dr. Kristina Box, during a news conference this week.

But it’s not a sign that state and community leaders should back off efforts to boost the number of Hoosiers who are immunized. And so far, they don’t appear to be. Box’s announcement came at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where the health department had set up more than a dozen tents for COVID-19 vaccination and testing.

Evidence continues to show that vaccinations are important. For the week ended Sept. 23, only 22 of the 1,721 people, or 1.3%, who were admitted to a hospital in Indiana with COVID were fully vaccinated, the state said. Of the 315 people admitted to intensive care during that time, only one was fully vaccinated.

That’s despite the fact that thousands of people who have been fully vaccinated have still contracted COVID-19. (Nearly 34,000, or 1%, of the 3.2 million fully vaccinated Hoosiers have had breakthrough cases of COVID in total, but unfortunately, the state data makes it tough to say how many breakthrough cases are reported daily.)

So, while it’s clear that people who have been vaccinated can still be infected, their chance of being hospitalized or dying remains significantly lower than for those who have not been vaccinated.

Which means vaccination is still the best defense against serious illness caused by COVID-19. That’s important to individuals, of course. But—and we know we’re repeating ourselves—as a community, we also care because reducing COVID hospitalizations is key to the ability of our hospitals to provide quality care in all other cases, especially as staffing continues to be a concern.

In fact, even as COVID-19 hospitalizations are inching down, some health care systems are still stretched thin. Ascension Health St. Vincent on West 86th Street, Deaconess Midtown and Deaconess hospitals in Evansville, two campuses of Methodist Hospital in northwestern Indiana, and Clark Memorial Hospital in Jeffersonville have requested help from the Indiana National Guard to cope.

“Beds and staffing are stretched to capacity or beyond capacity in many hospitals,” Box said at Wednesday’s press conference.

Only about 56% of Indiana’s eligible population had been vaccinated by Wednesday, state officials said. So there’s still a long way to go.

It helps that many companies are now requiring vaccines (or weekly tests). And there’s some evidence that new mask mandates at many schools could also be helping. So this is not the time to let up on those efforts.

If you’re still wavering, here’s an easy chance to get a vaccine—without an appointment. Through Oct. 30, you can go to IMS from noon to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday for free COVID vaccines and flu shots. Consider it a contribution to the greater good.•

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