The Indiana National Guard is fanning out to overstressed hospitals across the state to help with patient care and general help, as the number of deaths from COVID-19 in Indiana climbed this week above 15,000.
The Indiana Department of Health said Wednesday that the state sent National Guard teams to Ascension St. Vincent Hospital Indianapolis on West 86th Street, Deaconess Hospital in Evansville and Clark Memorial Hospital in Jeffersonville. It will also be deploying a team to two campuses of Methodist Hospital in northwest Indiana.
Dr. Kris Box, the state health commissioner, said the National Guard teams are going to hospitals that have “exhausted all other options to staff their beds.”
“Beds and staffing are stretched to capacity or beyond capacity in many hospitals,” she said at a press briefing in a parking lot across from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where the health department had set up more than a dozen tents for COVID-19 vaccine and testing.
Hospitalizations from COVID-19 have gradually declined in Indiana in recent weeks, but the total hospital census for 2021 has surpassed 2020 and 2019, Box said, as many hospitals have begun resuming non-COVID-19 surgeries and procedures that they delayed during the surge.
The National Guard units that are working in hospitals consist of 10 soldiers each: four medics and six general support staff.
The medics’ duties consist of helping with intravenous care and blood draws under a nurse’s direction, along with administering EKGs, providing immunizations and COVID-19 testing, and helping respiratory therapy.
The general support staff is helping clean rooms so they can be turned over quickly for the next patients, Box said. They are also helping with other general duties so the nurses can remain with the patients at their bedside.
Box said the need for testing and vaccination remains strong, even as signs emerge that Indiana might be coming out of the recent surge caused by the delta variant.
The number of COVID-19 cases in Indiana has dropped for the third straight week. The seven-day positivity rate has dropped and now stands at less than 10 percent for the first time in weeks.
“We don’t expect these declines to be linear,” Box said. “We may see cases bounce back up and down. If you look at other states, that’s what they see, kind of a saw-toothed pattern. That is the nature of this disease. However, a decline for three weeks is certainly a cause for optimism.”
Yet only 56% of Indiana’s eligible population has been vaccinated, and more than 95% of new COVID-19 cases are among people who have not been vaccinated.
The state is offering PCR and rapid antigen testing, along with vaccines for COVID-19 and flu. The tests and vaccines are free and available noon to 8 p .m. Tuesday through Saturday until Oct. 30.