Local COVID-19 cases continue to surge, and with no real end in sight, health officials warn Knox County could be headed for the red.
“We’re in real danger right now,” said county health officer Dr. Alan Stewart. “And I don’t see that changing.”
Knox County on Tuesday registered another 34 cases of confirmed COVID-19 as well as two more deaths, bringing the coronavirus-related death toll now to 19.
Stewart said Good Samaritan Hospital has had as many as five additional deaths so far this week, and its resources — things like beds, ventilators and nurses — continue to be stressed.
The 7-day positivity rate also continued its upward trent, reaching 12.4%.
Knox County on Monday saw a one-day surge of 73 cases; the day before it was 61 new cases.
And it’s been weeks since the county has marked a single-day increase of fewer than 20 cases, according to the state Department of Health.
The total number of confirmed cases here since march hit 1,816 on Tuesday, and Stewart said there are now 415 active cases.
“We are surging,” he said matter-of-factly.
The situation has deteriorated so much, he said, that he called an emergency meeting of local healthcare officials and first-responders to decide what additional measures would be necessary should the state move Knox County into the red — or most severe — designation on its color-coded dashboard in the coming days.
Already, counties in red are prohibited from gathering in groups of any more than 20. Orange counties, which Knox County currently is, are not allowed gatherings of more than 50 people.
“But locally we may have to look at limiting crowd size even more, limiting the capacity inside businesses and so forth,” Stewart said, adding that he won’t rule out a curfew if the situation worsens even further.
The state, too, is prohibiting attendance at high school athletic events beyond immediate family — parents and siblings — of the athletes themselves.
An ongoing problem not yet addressed, however, is fall weddings, Stewart said.
“I know a lot of people postponed their weddings to November thinking this thing would be over, but it’s certainly not,” he said. “I’m trying to work with those having weddings; while I can’t tell them they can’t get married, I am asking that they follow certain precautions, things like reducing crowd size, masking, things like that.”
Vincennes University has already made a move to virtual education and will remain as such until well after the first of the year.
Most public school corporations, while still doing in-person instruction, are watching the situation carefully. Lincoln High School recently closed for two weeks as a precaution after a handful of positive cases there led to more than 200 students placed into quarantine.
Most public schools, too, are opting to do a week of e-learning following Christmas break as a kind of forced quarantine period.
COVID-19 testing, too, has become a problem, Stewart said, as there are no longer enough tests to go around.
Once ample in number, there are now few.
“We’re asking people now to only get tested if they are symptomatic,” Stewart said. “And this is a problem not just here but statewide.”
The surge in Indiana is so bad, Stewart said, that state officials are having a tough time with contact tracing. Often, positive cases aren’t notified for days, and even then, they only reach about 50% of the people that have possibly come into direct contact with the virus.
“It’s just a very difficult situation right now,” he said. “A vaccine is on the horizon, but I think we’re going to have a very rough few months.”
And all of this is on the eve of the official beginning of the holiday season. Families may look to gather Thursday for a Thanksgiving meal, but Stewart is pleading with people to stay home.
“You have to think small,” he said. “Only gather with immediate family, the people you live with.”
And more than anything, Stewart is asking people to do the most basic of things in an effort to stop the spread.
“People are tired, but the basics of public health still work,” he said. “They’re just not paying attention to the fundamentals. They’re tired.
“Wear masks, social distance and wash your hands,” he said. “It’s that simple.”
Indiana on Tuesday recorded its most COVID-19 deaths for a single month with a week remaining as health officials added 103 more deaths to the state’s pandemic toll.
Indiana’s monthly high for COVID-19 deaths was 1,041 in April, when at most the state’s moving seven-day average was 42 fatalities a day. That daily average has now reached 51 as Indiana’s hospitals are treating nearly double the number of coronavirus patients as at any point since seeing their first infections in March, according to a report in the Associated Press.
Coronavirus hospitalizations have reached a level where health care leaders say the system is becoming overwhelmed and some hospitals have started rationing care to treat those most severely ill.
That has not bee the case, however, at Good Samaritan Hospital, at least not yet.
Indiana hospitals were treating 3,279 COVID-19 patients as of Monday — a more than 300% increase since late September when Gov. Eric Holcomb lifted nearly all business and crowd size restrictions before reinstating some limits this month.