Could be worst surge yet: Climbing county, state COVID numbers worry local officials

·6 min read
Giving local COVID-19 updates Friday are, clockwise from top left, Chuck Carney, Aaron Carroll, Brian Shockney, John Hamilton,  Julie Thomas and Kirk White. Penny Caudill, not pictured, spoke by phone.
Giving local COVID-19 updates Friday are, clockwise from top left, Chuck Carney, Aaron Carroll, Brian Shockney, John Hamilton, Julie Thomas and Kirk White. Penny Caudill, not pictured, spoke by phone.

Cases of COVID-19 climbed alarmingly this past week in Monroe County and Indiana.

Monroe County is in an orange coronavirus advisory, the third highest of four levels, with local officials concerned about new figures that indicate a return to higher levels of spread and hospitalizations. while the seven-day positivity rate increased to just under 10%.

“Projections are that it will likely get worse for the next few weeks before it starts to get better,” Dr. Aaron Carroll, a professor of pediatrics and chief health officer at Indiana University, said during an online local coronavirus update from Bloomington, Monroe County, Indiana University and IU Health officials.

Aaron Carroll, associate dean of the IU School of Medicine. (Indiana University / Courtesy photo)
Aaron Carroll, associate dean of the IU School of Medicine. (Indiana University / Courtesy photo)

Carroll thought it was clear Indiana is in the midst of a surge in cases. “There is no question and it looks like it could be our worst surge yet,” he said. “It's terrible.”

“Every Indiana county has over 200 cases per 100,000, and there are some counties that have over (500) and 600 cases per 100,000,” Monroe County health administrator Penny Caudill said. “This week, all 92 counties have an advisory level that is either orange or red at the moment (except Crawford County, which is still yellow based on two-week metrics but has 264 cases per 100,000 this week), and that is not the direction that we want to go.”

“Our current trajectory demonstrates we could easily outpace our highest impatient numbers to date for this pandemic,” IU Health South Central Region President Brian Shockney said. “Two of our IU Health regions have already surpassed their previous highs for the entire pandemic and it looks like we will most likely be doing the same.”

Brian Shockney, new COO at IU Health Bloomington Hospital as of Nov. 2016
Brian Shockney, new COO at IU Health Bloomington Hospital as of Nov. 2016

As a result, IU Health has once again looked into ways to conserve resources and workers, including limiting surgical volume.

Right now, COVID patients are occupying about 28% of intensive care unit beds and 11% of ventilators across Indiana, according to the state's COVID-19 dashboard.

Across the state, the number of people hospitalized with COVID this week is nearly double those seen in November, the Indianapolis Star reported Friday. On Thursday, the state reported 2,753 hospitalizations, with most of those patients being unvaccinated, according to hospital officials.

More: This is the state of COVID-19 in Indiana in December 2021

Indiana reached peak hospitalizations in November of 2020, when nearly 3,500 people were in the hospital due to COVID-19.

In the face of greatly increased demand, Shockney thanked the National Guard for their assistance at several locations during this recent surge. After arriving this week, National Guard members are now helping at all IU Health facilities in its South Central Region, including hospitals in Bloomington, Bedford and Paoli. Shockney worried IU Health workers would need all the help they can get as the newest surge causes more people to need inpatient care.

“Our resources are going to be stretched beyond any previous requirements during this pandemic. And that's requiring us to implement any and all measures to ensure we can care for patients including limiting our surgical volume."

Shockney showed concern for the health care workers who might need to face even more cases over the holiday season, when traveling and celebratory gatherings are common.

“This surge on top of surge means health care providers have even less chance to get a break from this pandemic and all the ... stress related to it,” he said. “So, we are concerned about our health care providers and workers as this continues. It's taking a toll on our mental and physical well being.”

More: Bloomington health care workers: 'People are acting like COVID is over ... and it's not'

To give overburdened health care workers a chance to rest and do their jobs helping everyone, Shockney urged people to follow precautions and get vaccinated.

As classes draw to a close for the fall semester at IU, cases are still on an upswing on the Bloomington campus. There were 105 cases among students, faculty and staff for the week of Dec. 2-8. Carroll thought the university’s strong vaccination record meant fewer students were likely to bring the coronavirus back to their homes, but worried some students could bring illnesses back to IU.

Assembly Hall vaccine clinic Monday-Wednesday

IU Bloomington COVID Response Unit co-chair Kirk White announced the university has partnered with the county and state health departments to hold a COVID-19 vaccine clinic at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, 3-8 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. The event will offer the first and second Moderna doses and boosters to everyone age 18 and older who is eligible, including the general public, though appointments are required.

To make an appointment, go to ourshot.in.gov and select “all vaccine sites.” From there, select Monroe and look for IND IU Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall VAX. As of Friday 700 appointments had already been made, with a capacity for 1,000 appointments on each of the three days.

The Moderna vaccine has yet to be approved for people younger than 18. Pfizer's COVID shots are available elsewhere for people age 5 on up.

Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton acknowledged rising coronavirus cases could have an impact on some city services, similar to the interruption of recycling services that occurred earlier this year when several people in the sanitation department had COVID-19. But he said such disruptions were unlikely.

“So far, through 22 months, we've been able to make sure everybody got coverage of the fundamental services that we need, and I'm confident we'll do that,” he said. “But I am concerned because if this uptick gets worse and worse, that certainly can have those kinds of impacts.”

Masks an issue at basketball games

IU's White admitted it has been “a real challenge” to get thousands of screaming basketball fans in Assembly Hall to abide by the county’s mask mandate. “Certainly the crowded Assembly Hall gets tied up in the excitement of things,” White said. “There's still a mask mandate in Monroe County, and we're doing our best to encourage people to abide by that.”

IU passes out between 3,000 and 4,000 masks at the doors as people arrive for each game, while also using signs, staff interactions and messages over the public address system to remind fans they are under a health order requiring masks be worn in indoor public spaces, he said.

“But there's a group mentality here that needs to happen, where people need to continue to take this seriously,” White said. “My hope is by looking at these numbers today, this week, that it's quite clear that we're not through this, and it's not over yet.”

Contact Patrick McGerr at pmcgerr@heraldt.com, 812-345-7559, or follow @patrickmcgerr on Twitter. The Indianapolis Star contributed to this report.

This article originally appeared on The Herald-Times: COVID cases climb again in both Monroe County, Indiana