According to Indiana’s COVID-19 dashboard site, Knox County’s case numbers surged exponentially this past week, but local health officials say reporting lags are partly to blame.
“Sometimes there’s a four or five day reporting delay on the state site, so some of those folks listed as active cases are almost out of quarantine by the time they’re reported,” said Knox County Health Officer Dr. Alan Stewart.
“We are seeing a bit of a second spike though,” he added.
That sentiment was echoed by Good Samaritan’s Chief Operating Officer Adam Thacker on Wednesday during the hospital’s weekly Facebook Live broadcast.
According to Thacker, residents should expect some volatility in case numbers because of both the level of scrutiny with which officials track the information and because of the reporting lag.
“The state is just inundated,” he said. “But there’s also been an increase in cases.”
For several weeks Knox County was averaging about 20 new COVID-19 cases per day, but Stewart said that has increased over the past six days, and as of Tuesday there were 485 active cases — not far, he says, from the record caseload set in August after a back-to-school surge.
Knox County, too, will remain in orange in the state’s COVID-19 dashboard.
Health officials say a variety of factors are likely to blame for this most recent spike.
Dr. Scott Stine, Chief Medical Officer at Good Samaritan, says if he were to theorize the cause of the spike it’s likely the number of people attending fall festivals and sporting events, as well as the transition to more indoor events as we move toward cooler weather.
However, he says it’s important to also look at the outcomes of these more recent cases, particularly when compared to the autumn surge of 2020.
“The good news is that the majority of these cases are not resulting in serious illness, which is what we care about and why vaccination is important,” said Stine.
As of Wednesday, Good Samaritan had only 11 COVID-positive inpatient cases, with two requiring ventilators.
“A few months ago our numbers were in the thirties and forties,” Thacker said.
All of the individuals currently hospitalized locally with COVID-19 — and roughly 90% of Good Samaritan’s cases for 2021 — consist of those who are unvaccinated.
Stine says this is the reason why health officials now refer to the pandemic as a “disease of the unvaccinated.”
“The population we see affected the most are the unvaccinated,” he said, adding that advanced age and co-morbidities, such as diabetes, obesity or hypertension, also increase the risk of serious complications for COVID-19.
“Those individuals who might think, ‘well, I’m only 35, and I’ll be fine,’ need to back up and look what other risk factors they have,” Stine said.
Health officials acknowledge there have been many breakthrough cases of the virus, locally, but individuals who have been fully vaccinated tend to have more mild symptoms and rarely require hospitalization.
In the past week, Knox County has had 36 breakthrough cases, said Stewart.
“But they have been largely mild cases,” he said, urging that vaccination is still the best method to prevent spread, hospitalization and death.
Stine and Thacker concur, adding that one population they’re particularly concerned about are pregnant women, who now have one of the lowest vaccination rates by demographic.
“The vaccination rates of pregnant women is in the 24% range, and that’s scary because that is one of the highest risk groups,” said Thacker.
As scientists and doctors around the world have had more than a year to track how COVID affects pregnant women, they’ve found a large number are hospitalized because of respiratory complications.
Too, they say, nearly a year of data has proven the available vaccines are safe for both the expectant mothers and the unborn children they carry.
“We encourage vaccination at any phase of the pregnancy, and the benefits get passed on to the fetus, and to babies through breastfeeding,” Stine added.
Currently, only 48% of all Knox County residents have been fully vaccinated, and health officials have noted since the start of the pandemic that more than 70% would be needed to reach herd immunity in order to end — or nearly end — community spread of the virus.
As healthcare workers prepare to enter a second long winter of COVID-19, hospital officials say the trauma of the pandemic has taken its toll on staff at every level.
Thacker says the hospital has recognized that their healthcare workers and support staff not only feel fatigued and stressed, many are also now dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder because of what they have experienced over the past year.
“There’s a lot of stress in the healthcare world, but it’s to the point that it’s moving past stress and into trauma — with trauma, you’re probably changed forever,” he said.
In the past year more than a million healthcare workers have left the field nationally.
“They’re leaving because of the impact of the pandemic,” Thacker added.
Stine explains that it’s also challenging, psychologically, for healthcare workers to watch people choose not to follow the advice of doctors and scientists and be vaccinated.
“Sometimes people make choices that cause themselves to get sick, and that’s very difficult for healthcare workers to deal with,” he said.
But, at the end of the day, Stine and Thacker say, the remaining healthcare workers will be there to help patients.
“Every day I’m impressed by the people who decide to come to work and really make a difference,” said Thacker.
Those seeking a COVID-19 vaccine are encouraged to visit the health department on Monday, Wednesday or Friday — with Tuesdays and Thursdays being reserved for childhood immunizations.
In addition to its regular business hours, the department also offers COVID vaccinations the first Saturday of each month from 10 a.m. until noon.
The department also offers extended services to those who are homebound.
The health department is no longer using 211 or the online Zotec platform to schedule COVID-19 vaccinations. Instead, they ask residents to visit KCHDCovidClinic.as.me or call 812-882-8080.
Those who are educators, healthcare workers, those with underlying health conditions, the immunocompromised, or those 65 and older who are at least six months past their second vaccination, are now eligible to receive a third dose of the Pfizer vaccine.