Sounding the alarm: Boone County health officials warn of substantial COVID-19 spread


Boone County health officials have warned of substantial community spread of COVID-19 in recent weeks and urge residents to adopt more stringent approaches to their mitigation efforts.

Dr. Herschell Servies, the county’s health officer and an expert in infectious diseases, said the virus “is just everywhere.”

“It’s not Zionsville or Lebanon or Western Boone area. It’s all across the county now,” Servies said. “It’s definitely community spread now. We’re all concerned, really, for the first time. This is a lot worse than it was back in March and April. There is no comparison.”

The Boone County Health Dept. reported 95 additional COVID-19 cases in the first three days of the reporting week beginning Nov. 6. The tally was on pace to surpass the prior week’s record of 181. In addition, the department had reported new record highs for each of the prior three weeks. County health officials fear the virus will continue to spread at an unprecedented pace, in part due to colder weather, which forces residents inside where the virus can be more easily transmitted.

To date, 57 Boone County residents have died of COVID-19, 52 of which were linked to long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes. As of press time Nov. 13, the Indiana State Dept. of Health reported Boone County had a seven-day positivity rate of 6.95 percent, which is above the 5 percent benchmark health officials officials cite to curb community spread. Boone County, like nearly all counties in the state, has reported a steadily increasing seven-day positivity rate in recent weeks.

County health officials also fear the sharp rise is being fueled by “COVID-19 fatigue” as the public grows weary of following mitigations efforts amid a pandemic pandemic that has dragged on for nine months.

Servies said he consistently sees people not wear face masks or not cover their noses and mouths when they do wear them. He said many also do not follow to social distancing guidelines, especially when around family and friends at small gatherings. COVID-19 fatigue, he said, is real and something every resident should be cognizant of.

“We are in a worse situation than we were in March with this community spread,” BCHD Nursing and Vital Records Director Lisa Younts said. “We want to have that message out there to think before you go to a crowded event and just to know that it is being spread like wildfire. It’s hard to get that message out there, that this is serious.

“Most of the public is tired of it, but we need to do our part, and the community needs to have that responsibility to do all the things they’re supposed to do.”

The disease’s spread has created a burden on hospital systems across the state and nation, and Servies said Witham Hospital Services, the county’s primary hospital system, is experiencing staffing challenges and increased ICU bed usage. As of Nov. 10, he said 25 Witham employees were either infected with COVID-19 or quarantining because of a possible exposure. On the same day, 11 of the hospital’s 16 COVID-19 beds were in use, although he said more beds could be brought in if needed. He also said that because of a staffing shortage, he doubts the hospital could adequately staff an additional site at the Boone County 4-H Fairgrounds, which has been earmarked as a spillover site for a surge in COVID-19 patients.

Younts said the toll the pandemic has taken on hospital staff has become more noticeable as the nation enters yet another wave of new cases and hospitalizations.

“We are relying heavily on each other,” Younts said. “We’ve spoken with family members that have lost loved ones, and it’s very touching and sad to listen to what people have gone through. They’ve lost their parents, and we’ve talked to people that have lost siblings when it wasn’t expected.”

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Witham Health Services registered nurse Amy B. works during what has been called another surge during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Submitted photo)

Health officials: Schools are doing well

Boone County Health Officer Dr. Herschell Servies commended the county’s school systems for their diligence in implementing mitigation strategies that he said have largely kept the virus from being spread within classrooms. He said the virus has been more readily spread at parties, sleepovers, sporting events, family gatherings, weddings, funerals and other out-of-school activities, which have contributed to many of the reported cases in the county’s school districts.

“There really haven’t been that many cases that have spread from the school,” Servies said. “Before school started, I was dreading school starting and figured we would be so busy doing stuff for them, but they have just jumped in and done a great job. But now, some of the schools are getting so backed up trying to track down these contacts that the administrators can’t do their regular job. They’re just doing contact tracing all the time.

“One of the school (districts) said they are definitely seeing spread from Halloween now in the schools.”

Health officials said the best ways residents can prevent the spread are to practice social distancing, wear a face mask, avoid crowds, stay home when sick and wash their hands.