State officials announced July 15 they would pause Indiana’s reopening plan, opting to stay at Stage 4.5 for at least the next two weeks.
“We’re going to lock in at 4.5, and we will be here for … at least – underscore at least – another two weeks,” Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb said during a July 15 press briefing.
All prior guidelines and restrictions implemented in the previous two weeks will continue, with the addition of extra measures.
As of July 23, those organizing gatherings and events with more than 250 attendees must develop and submit to local health departments a written plan outlining the mitigation efforts they will use to ensure the health and safety of participants. The new guidelines also apply to seasonal and special events such as fairs, festivals, parades, graduations, outdoor concerts, outdoor movies other than drive-ins, family reunions, conferences and weddings, according to state officials.
Event coordinators must write a letter to their local health department, addressing their event’s capacity limits, guest information, staff and volunteer screening plans, social distancing measures, plans for increased sanitation, face coverings and compliance with guidelines outlined by the state and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
For the second consecutive week, Indiana reported an increase in COVID-19 cases. More than 4,300 new cases have been reported in the past week, contributing to the state’s cumulative tally of 53,370 cases, as of press time. In the same seven-day period one month ago, the state reported just over 3,000 COVID-19 cases, Indiana Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box said. In response, state officials have made a concerted effort to increase statewide testing capabilities and intervene in the areas of the state most affected by the new coronavirus with strike teams.
The state’s seven-day average positivity rate, which tracks the number of tests that are positive, also increased, moving to 7.1 percent July 11, compared to 4.1 percent as of June 19 and 6.3 percent as of July 4. Yet the average falls short of the record 20.2 percent seven-day average positivity rate recorded April 24.
A hospitalization census found 881 Hoosiers are hospitalized with COVID-19, as of July 14, compared to the 595 patients who were hospitalized June 26. The state’s previous record number of patients was recorded June 2, when 990 patients were hospitalized.
State hospital data analyzed by Regenstrief Institute, an Indianapolis-based research organization, found 51,434 distinct COVID-19 patients who tested positive for the disease since March 1. The institute found 12,449 (24 percent) of the positive patients visited an emergency department, and 7,633 (15 percent) of positive cases have been hospitalized. Of the hospitalized patients, 1,620 (21 percent) have been admitted to an intensive care unit, according to the institute, representing 3 percent of all patients analyzed. To date, the institute estimated 5,642 (74 percent) of the 7,633 patients who have been hospitalized have been discharged; seven percent are likely still hospitalized, and 19 percent of COVID-19 hospitalized patients are known to have died.
Box said the age group that has contributed most to the spike in cases has been those in their 20s and 30s. She said that while they are less likely to suffer severe health consequences from contracting the disease, but they may also be spreading the virus to others older than them, leading to the uptick in hospitalizations. Box also said travel could be another contributor to the increase in hospitalizations.
“That is going to add more burden to our hospital systems,” Box said of the increased cases attributed to younger Hoosiers and the community spread they are causing. “As we look at it, and the percent positivity ticks up, that is what is really most concerning to me as I look at it. And I do feel it is a time for Hoosiers to decide that they are going to go back to more careful social distancing and to wear their masks and to wash their hands more carefully.”
Testing supply shortages
In addition to an increase in cases and hospitalizations, Box said the state has suffered from a shortage of COVID-19 testing supplies.
“While we continue to increase our testing capacity, we’re having to adapt to the supply and demand issues that have been created by the significant spikes that we’ve seen in other states across the country,” Box said during a July 15 press briefing. “This is similar to what we saw back in the spring and has impacted our ability to get some (testing) supplies.”
Box said the delay in testing supply shipments has, in turn, delayed testing results. She said test results are expected to take three to five days to be delivered; however, state strike teams are “typically able to get test results within 48 hours, meaning a quick response in our most critical areas where we need to avoid outbreaks, such as nursing homes or industrial facilities that are seeing high numbers of cases.” Health officials have said contacting residents who are COVID-19 positive within 48 hours is key to tracing their potential contacts and, thus, slowing the spread of the virus by determining who they may have infected.
Despite the strain placed on the state’s testing capabilities, Box said 11 new, free testing sites would be launched statewide.
“We’ll still expect to see another surge of COVID cases this fall in tandem with flu season,” Box said. “This will increase the need for testing and supplies in all states, not just Indiana. So the work that we do now to keep our communities safe and ensure that our healthcare system has ample capacity will put us in a better position for the expected surge.”
Indiana COVID-19 Rental Assistance Program
The Indiana COVID-19 Rental Assistance Program portal opened July 13. In the first 48 hours, more than 11,000 Hoosiers applied to the program.
The program offers accepted applicants a maximum of $2,000 per household to help for any combination of past-due rent, late payments or on-going rent payments, up to $500 per month. First payments from the program are expected to be sent to landlords by the first week of August, state officials said.
Assistance is available to residents in 91 Indiana counties through the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority by way of $25 million in funds from the CARES Act. Applicants must have their landlord approve the assistance before being approved as a recipient.
Indiana residents can apply to the program at indianahousingnow.org.