Health chief projects state virus peak weeks away

The Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana could be a month away from the peak of coronavirus infections, the state’s top health official said Friday, as seven more virus-related deaths were reported, bringing the state’s toll to 24.

Expected surge

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases has more than doubled to 981 since Wednesday, the health department reported Friday. The number of deaths has doubled from Tuesday’s report of 12.

Dr. Kristina Box, the state health commissioner, said the projected illness peak is expected in mid- to late April in Indiana. She said the Indiana projection was based on modeling by state agencies and considered how the virus has spread in other states.

“We are already seeing some patients sick but we’re not seeing a big uptick in EMS calls for patients with respiratory illness,” Box said. “So we still think we are a little bit in the calm before the storm. But we know that’s coming and are prepared for that.”

A statewide stay-at-home order issued by Gov. Eric Holcomb took effect Wednesday, with exemptions for essential businesses to remain open and for necessary trips for food and medicine.

COVID-19 testing has been limited around the state, but Holcomb said the locations of confirmed cases show the virus has spread to all parts of Indiana.

“We don’t see the peak yet, these numbers are compounding,” Holcomb said. “This is like a snowball that’s rolling downhill and getting bigger and bigger and bigger.”

Preparedness confidential

Holcomb and Box declined again Friday to release any details about the intensive care unit capacity of hospitals and availability of ventilators around the state. Hospitals in New York, Europe and elsewhere have been overwhelmed by serious COVID-19 illnesses and some states, including Illinois, have been releasing updates such as the number of occupied hospital beds and ventilators in use and projections on what medical services will be needed if the pandemic isn’t contained.

Holcomb said he had seen Indiana statistics on medical service availability, but that he was respecting agreements with individual hospitals to not release data. He said he would “look toward” providing statewide or regional information.

“We’ll make sure that the public knows as we approach the surge that we ... know is coming,” Holcomb said. “Right now we know that we have the inventory to handle where we are today. When we get closer to those numbers spiking and closer to that peak, we’ll keep the public informed of alternative measures that we may have to take.”

Democratic governor candidate Woody Myers said more transparency was needed.

“We know much more about the status of the pandemic in Illinois, New York and California than we do about Indiana,” Myers, who is a doctor and former state health commissioner, said in a statement. “There’s zero reason not to make this critical information available right now. Health care professionals need to know, but it should also be available to all Hoosiers.”

Virus spreading

Indiana's confirmed number of coronavirus cases surged by 338 to 981 across the state, the Indiana State Department of Health said.

The agency also released its first demographic data on Indiana’s confirmed coronavirus cases. That data shows about 56% of infections are among people aged 50 and older, and about 38% are among people age 60 and older — the age group most at risk of having a severe infection.

State health officials have said they are targeting tests for health care workers and others most at risk.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.

The Indiana data includes no information about how many health care workers have been infected. The department also released no demographic information about Indiana’s COVID-19 fatalities.

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