Indiana health officials hosted a COVID-19 press conference Friday, days after the state topped 5,000 daily cases for the first time since January. State Health Commissioner Dr. Kris Box said she agrees with other experts calling this late summer surge the “darkest time in the pandemic,” despite this week’s FDA approval of the Pfizer vaccine.
Here’s what we learned:
- Box called this surge the “worst” since the winter.
- Indiana has a 10.8% positivity rate, much higher compared to the 2% positive rate at the end of June.
- Nearly 2,200 Hoosiers are hospitalized, which is the highest number reached since January. As a result, hospitals are struggling with staffing and capacity issues. Box noted that the shortage of beds in intensive care units affects “every Hoosier in need of critical medical care.” Four out of 10 health districts, from all corners of the state, have reported using up more than 100% of their ICU beds.
- Though the majority of hospitalizations are occurring among older Hoosiers, officials are also seeing an increase in the number of children being hospitalized. “To anyone who argues that COVID-19 does not impact children, I can assure you that every parent with a hospitalized child would disagree,” Box said.
- The delta variant continues to dominate the state, making up 98% of all COVID cases, Box said. She noted that only a select portion of positive COVID results are sent for sequencing, but the sampling provides an accurate representation of the level of the variant in the state.
- With the statistics of this surge and the more infectious delta variant, Box noted that this is not good news for Hoosiers. “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.”
- Officials noted the surge is not just impacting people diagnosed with COVID. “It impacts the person who might need a biopsy to see if he or she has cancer,” Box said. “The accident victim who gets who gets held in an emergency room because there are no staff to put him in a room. The person who is depending on a joint replacement to relieve their extreme pain.”
- As a result of overwhelmed healthcare systems, hospitals are canceling or postponing non-emergent procedures to ensure capacity for those who are extremely ill. Indiana University Health announced Thursday it is suspending half of all inpatient elective surgeries and procedures that are non-emergent and non-urgent.
- Officials said they are doing all they can to fight this surge, but once again reemphasized the importance of individuals getting vaccinated. “I want Hoosiers to understand that the decisions that they are making affect others,” Box said. “It’s incredibly disappointing to have effective tools such as the COVID-19 vaccine and still have nearly half of our eligible population refuse to get it.”
- Unvaccinated Hoosiers continue to make up the number of COVID cases and hospitalizations. Breakthrough cases among those vaccinated against COVID-19 account for 0.005% of all fully vaccinated Hoosiers, primarily those ages 60 and older. Breakthrough hospitalizations represent 0.008% of those who are fully vaccinated, Dr. Lindsay Weaver, the state’s Chief Medical Officer, said.
- Weaver noted that out of 1,300 patients, only 7 were vaccinated. Another statistic showed that 204 out of 205 Hoosiers in the ICU with COVID were unvaccinated — only one in that group was vaccinated.
- To ramp up vaccination efforts, the state scheduled more than 50 mobile vaccination and testing sites throughout this week. The state also has 10 mobile units going into areas with high transmission.
- Since the announcement of the FDA approval of the Pfizer vaccine on Monday, the state has seen a 10% increase in Hoosiers scheduling vaccine appointments.
- The state has also administered more than 10,000 third doses to immunocompromised people, since it was approved earlier this month. The third dose must be administered 28 days after your second dose. “Ideally, you would get the same type of vaccine that you received earlier,” Weaver said. “But if only one or the other is available, it is fine to get that vaccine.
- The state is also preparing to ramp up clinics to administer booster shots to about 3 million Hoosiers in the coming months, as detailed by the recently released plan from the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services.
- State health officials are also trying to keep up with schools and their testing efforts. Of 318 schools that responded to a state survey, 53% indicated interest in BinaxNOW testing, a type of rapid antigen test.
- Officials also emphasized the importance of keeping up with routine childhood immunizations as those numbers have fallen during the pandemic. “Do not skip your shots,” Weaver said.
- When asked about conversations with Governor Eric Holcomb about the possibility of another mask mandate, Box said “there’s always a conversation with the governor ongoing, about everything with regards to this pandemic.” Mandate or not, Box said masking is the mitigation measure that will help combat the surge. “For right now, we have to decrease the transmission in the state of Indiana.”
- “Things are going to get worse,” Box said, if Hoosiers don’t wear masks and more people don’t get vaccinated. Officials are anticipating more cases and hospitalizations in the next month. “The thing we are able to really control by getting vaccines now is whether we have another surge this difficult and this bad later in the winter or in the early January-February time.”
IndyStar’s Shari Rudavsky contributed to this report.