State officials announced Indiana will remain in Stage 4.5 of its reopening plan through at least August 27.
Local governments can still impose more stringent guidelines for reopening. Marion County has enacted its own guidelines, capping social gatherings at 50 people and closing bars until at least Aug. 12. In the state’s initial reopening plan, Indiana was scheduled to enter the fifth and final by July 4, which was postponed due to setbacks in the state’s battle against the new coronavirus.
Indiana is one of several states in the Midwest, according to national health officials, that could be seeing early signs of a surge in COVID-19 cases. State officials said July 29 they are working to keep “on top of” any potential outbreaks.
“I think that we’re nowhere near what we see in Florida, Arizona, Texas and some other places,” Indiana Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box said during a July 29 press briefing. “But because we did see an uptick not only in our hospital admissions but in our percent positivity and our number of positive cases, that’s why we stayed in (Stage) 4.5.”
State officials released data July 29 indicating Indiana saw more COVID-19 hospitalizations during the prior week. A state hospitalization census revealed 907 patients were hospitalized with COVID-19, up from 595 reported June 26, but less than the 1,579 reported May 4. However, daily hospitalizations had fallen to 53 July 23, down from the 74 patients hospitalized July 13 and the 121 hospitalized May 4.
The state’s seven-day moving average positivity rate increased to 6.8 percent July 21. Previously, the state reported a positivity rate of 4.5 percent June 18 and a 14.6 positivity rate May 3.
“We are hopeful, but we have to do everything we can,” Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb said of reducing the state’s positivity rate. “What I’m reminded of on a daily basis is this virus will take what we give it, so it’s incumbent upon us to be on our best behavior and practicing physical distancing and good hygiene and masking up when you can’t put that distance between you.”
Holcomb also announced a moratorium on evictions from rental properties and that a prohibition on filling foreclosures would be extended through August 14, which aligns with the executive order that prohibits the disconnection of utility services. Starting August 17, the state government capital complex will begin to open.
Contact tracing efforts
Box said about 77 percent of people with positive cases were reached by various methods of communication to trace their recent contacts in an effort to keep them from spreading the virus.
“Those are the people we really worry about because it means that they likely aren’t taking the steps they need to (in order) to protect themselves, their friends and their family members who might also have been exposed,” Box said. “I cannot stress enough how invaluable contact tracing is in stopping the spread of COVID-19. Every Hoosier has a role to play by telling your employer, your friends and family members and contact tracers if you test positive.
“We’ve been able to mitigate the spread of COVID in a number of situations in Indiana because people have cooperated with our contact tracers.”
Box said a staffer at a church camp tested positive, and contact tracers were able to quickly trace the staffer’s contacts and advise them to quarantine. Of the camp’s 50 staff, who came from several states, 40 tested positive but they were able to quarantine or isolate on-site.
Box said contact tracers intervened in at least 75 other large gatherings that could have become hot beds for the virus’ spread but were mitigated. They included weddings, camps, family reunions, church events, graduation parties and bachelor parties. In one instance, at least 60 people were exposed at a single prom in Indiana, Box said.
Long-term care facility numbers
Dr. Daniel Rusyniak, the chief medical officer of the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration, responded July 29 to accusations that the state underreported long-term care facility deaths in the state.
“We have never underreported or hid data,” Rusyniak said.
State officials recently released preliminary data from individual long-term health care facilities in Indiana. The data included the number of positive cases and deaths among residents. To compile the data, the state required facilities to submit their COVID-19 data dating to March 1. To date, roughly 95 percent of facilities have reported data, and state officials are working with the remaining facilities to secure their data, Rusyniak said.
Prior to the release of the preliminary data, the state, on its online dashboard, tracked the number of cumulative COVID-19 cases and deaths in facilities across the state. But when the preliminary data was released, it showed more deaths occurred in the facilities than previously reported. Rusyniak said the discrepancy was likely due to a number of factors.
“For one thing, facilities reporting information are now sending us more complete data,” Rusyniak said. “This has likely resulted, and sadly so, in higher case and death counts. It’s also likely that our improved data reporting system has made it easier and faster for facilities to get us this required information.”
Rusyniak said the state has always reported the aggregate data it was submitted; however, he said, the way data has been collected changed, likely contributing to the discrepancy.