As COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Indiana continue to shatter records by the day, the state’s top health official said Wednesday she doesn’t expect the ongoing surge to slow soon, and pleaded with Hoosiers to wear masks and avoid crowds.
“I can’t predict how much higher it will go, but I can tell you we’re on an exponential growth curve right now and we do not expect it to turn around quickly,” Dr. Kris Box, state health commissioner, said during Gov. Eric Holcomb’s weekly press briefing. “In the next several weeks, we will continue to see cases climb, individuals hospitalized, and unfortunately, more deaths.”
Despite the wave of new cases, Holcomb said the state will not make adjustments to the restrictions announced last week, when he signed an executive order requiring all Indiana businesses to display signs alerting employees and customers that masks are required. He also rolled back capacity limitations for social gatherings and events, depending on the level of infection in each county.
“I know I sound like a skipping record, but there’s a cause and effect to all of this,” Holcomb said. “As we see community spread occur and rise, that leads to [COVID-19] cases rising, that leads to hospital admissions rising, and with that, beds are filled.”
Meanwhile, some other states have added new restrictions in recent days. Ohio established a curfew between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., effective Thursday, that runs for three weeks. Michigan has closed restaurants to indoor dining and suspended organized sports, which includes the high school and college football playoffs. New York ordered all businesses with a state liquor license and gyms to close by 10 p.m.
Box said the situation is Indiana is so dire that contact tracers–workers who call people who test positive and determine who they have been in contact with—have become “overloaded” trying to keep up with the growing case load. The state has recently hired an additional 600 contact tracers, bringing the total to about 1,500, Box said.
The Indiana Department of Health on Wednesday said hospitalizations due to COVID-19 jumped to an all-time high of 3,040 on Tuesday, up from 2,951 on Monday and 2,768 on Sunday. Hospitalizations were at 2,001 less than two weeks ago and have more than tripled since Oct. 3.
Dr. Lindsay Weaver, Indiana’s chief medical officer, said the state is continuing preparations to accept delivery of vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna if they are approved by federal regulators, but the initial shipments will be limited and dedicated to health care workers, emergency responders and senior citizens.
“We don’t expect to have enough vaccines to vaccinate the general public until late spring or even summer,” Weaver said.
Several Indiana health care administrators joined the press briefing to say their workers and capacities were stretching thin, with the rising tide of cases. Hospitals and nursing homes are searching high and low for doctors, nurses, therapists and support staff to relieve overworked teams, but it is difficult to find people, as all the health systems are looking at the same time.
Dr. Eric Fish, president and CEO of Schneck Medical Center in Seymour, said his 85-bed hospital has been at or near capacity and has been turning away ambulances and transfer patients. The medical and nursing staff are exhausted, he said.
Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital is now caring for about 80 patients with COVID-19, more than double the number on Nov. 1, and almost half are in the intensive care unit, said Dr. Mark Leutkemeyer.
In the meantime, 686 employees of IU Health are in quarantine, after becoming infected or exposed to someone who tested positive. “Every person in quarantine maybe means one less patient we’re able to care for,” Leutkemeyer said.
Like others during the press conference, he asked Hoosiers to wear masks, practice six feet of social distancing, wash hands frequently and avoid crowds.
“We know we’re up for a challenge in the next few weeks and months, and we’re readying ourselves to as prepared as possible,” he added. “But we need your help, because we can’t keep this up for a long period of time.”