With the highly contagious delta variant sweeping across Indiana, state health officials warned Friday that hospitalizations from COVID-19 could grow much worse in the next month.
“Things are going to get worse if Hoosiers do not start wearing masks to prevent transmission and more Hoosiers don’t get vaccinated,” said Dr. Kris Box, the state’s health commissioner, speaking at a press conference. “We are going to see cases continue to increase, probably until right after Labor Day, and then we will see hospitalizations follow.”
Already, some hospitals are beginning to fill up, postpone non-emergency procedures and turn away ambulances from emergency rooms in high numbers.
On Thursday, Indiana University Health, the state’s largest hospital system, said it would cut elective surgeries and procedures by 50% starting Monday.
Dr. Lindsay Weaver, the state health department’s chief medical officer, echoed Box’s warning.
“I think we are fully expecting and preparing that things are going to get much worse with hospitalizations in the next four weeks,” she said.
The two pleaded with people who have not yet been vaccinated to make an appointment to do so, and asked everyone to practice safe hygiene by wearing face masks, which cuts down on the virus’ transmission.
Hospitalizations due to COVID-19 rose from 2,108 on Wednesday to 2,186 on Thursday, the largest number since Jan. 23, when 2,188 people were hospitalized with the virus, the state health department reported. More than a quarter (26%) of Indiana’s intensive care unit beds are occupied by COVID patients.
“I’ve heard other medical professionals around the country state that this is the darkest time in the pandemic,” Box said. “Unfortunately, I share those sentiments.”
Only 46% of Indiana’s population was fully vaccinated as of Thursday morning, ranking it 36th among all states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Box pointed out that the vast majority of people showing up at hospitals needing treatment for COVID-19 are unvaccinated. Out of 1,300 people admitted to Indiana hospitals in recent days, only seven were vaccinated.
The surge in hospitalizations, Box said, is hurting others who cannot get care, such as cancer patients and those needing joint replacements.
“I want Hoosiers to know the decisions they are making affect others,” she said.
Yet the demand for COVID-19 testing is soaring. This week, the state health department scheduled nearly 50 mobile testing sites around the state. In the first three days, it provided more than 5,000 tests and administered more than 800 vaccines, Box said.
Local health departments in Indiana administered more than 11,000 tests this week. Statewide, across all sites, well over 200,000 tests have been administered, she said.
“Testing in particular is very much needed right now, given the increase in transmission,” Box said. “At some of our sites, we are seeing positivity rates close to 20%.”
Some of the demand is coming from students and families, who need a negative test to get back into school after showing symptoms. The state health department said it is offering local schools more test, with mobile units and rapid testing.
More than 300 National Guard troops have volunteered to help with testing around the state.
The good news, officials said, is that the Food and Drug Administration this week gave full approval for the Pfizer vaccine. Vaccine sites across the state saw a 10% increase in appointments as a result. Some immunocompromised people are now eligible for a booster shot, Weaver said.