With local COVID-19 cases continuing to surge, county health officer Dr. Alan Stewart says he will likely recommend tighter local restrictions in an effort to slow the spread.

The state on Monday reported five new cases of the novel coronavirus here, but that’s after 18 were reported on Sunday, 21 on Saturday and 35 on Friday.

The total number of confirmed cases has climbed to 819; there are 175 active cases, the most recorded since the outbreak first reached Knox County in March.

Knox County has also had at least three more COVID-19 deaths, including one on Monday, although the state dashboard does not yet reflect them.

Stewart last week said there’s a significant lag between a local death and seeing it reflected on the state dashboard. Currently, there are still just ten.

“It’s skyrocketing in the Midwest, in counties all around us,” Stewart said. “We knew it would show up, and it’s here.”

As a result, Stewart said he is calling a meeting of the local Emergency Response Team, one led by Knox County Emergency Management Agency Director John Streeter.

With the committee’s blessing, he is likely to implement a local mask mandate and ask that restaurants and bars reduce capacity to half.

At this point, he is hopeful people will voluntarily comply; if not, he can seek a court injunction to force their hand, he said.

“This is a matter of enforcement,” he said. “I don’t want to create confrontation, but at the same time, there is urgency here.

“Just like two weeks ago, when we saw other counties’ numbers going up quickly, I knew we weren’t going to stay blue forever,” he said of the dashboard’s color-coded system. “Sure enough, it’s hit here, too, and our numbers are going up.”

Stewart said his greatest concern is Good Samaritan Hospital becoming overwhelmed if he does nothing to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Currently, he said, there are more than 20 COVID-19 patients there being treated. Of them, eight are in intensive care. Another three are on ventilators.

Fourteen are from Knox County.

If no action is taken to slow the spread, he is worried those numbers will increase quickly.

“This is a dangerous situation,” he said.

“I feel like we’re trying to play a football game and just waiting on that hail mary or touchdown pass,” he said, comparing such a victory move to the pending COVID-19 vaccine.

“And while it’s fine if we look for a vaccine, we also have to take public health measures, ones that can’t be overlooked right now.”

Gov. Eric Holcomb had said he would let the ongoing mask mandate expire on Oct. 17, but he extended it for another month.

Stewart said if everyone would comply — if everyone would wear masks when indoors — he would expect COVID-19 cases to drop quickly.

“If we just do these increased measures for two weeks, it should be sufficient,” he said. “But that’s only if everyone complies.

“If we do a full court press with these public health measures, I’ve witnessed it work. I’ve been a participant where it’s worked. I’m trying to make the point here that everyone needs to get on board.”

The state announced on Sunday that Indiana’s hospitals entered the weekend with their most COVID-19 patients since the first weeks after the coronavirus outbreak reached the state seven months ago.

The state health department also this weekend added 38 more coronavirus-related deaths to Indiana’s toll. The newly recorded deaths raise Indiana’s death toll to 4,130, including confirmed and presumed coronavirus infections, according to the health department’s daily update Sunday.

Indiana reached a seven-day rolling average of 25 daily deaths last week, the highest level since May and nearly double from a month ago.

Gov. Eric Holcomb has resisted calls for reinstating coronavirus restrictions since lifting most limits last month — just as the state started recording sharp increases in hospitalizations and new infections. Holcomb announced last week new steps toward fighting outbreaks in nursing homes, whose residents have accounted for about 55% of Indiana’s deaths.

Indiana’s average daily number of new confirmed COVD-19 cases reached 2,158 as of Saturday. That is up about 160% from a month ago and has continued rising to new highest level the state has seen during the pandemic.

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