State health chief warns COVID-19 cases will increase

By TOM DAVIES
The Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS — Top Indiana officials warned Tuesday that the state’s rapid jump in coronavirus illnesses is just the beginning and that obeying a new stay-at-home order is necessary, even as President Donald Trump suggested restrictions around the country could be relaxed in little more than two weeks.

The order from Gov. Eric Holcomb takes effect Wednesday. Indiana saw its number of confirmed COVID-19 cases grow to 365 on Tuesday — more than 12 times what state health officials reported a week earlier. Indiana's coronavirus-related deaths have gone from two to 12 during that time.

Dr. Kristina Box, the state health commissioner, said the state’s hospitals had not yet experienced a surge of patients but that they were seeking additional sources of protective equipment for health care workers along with monitoring intensive care unit bed and ventilator capacity at major hospitals for the coming weeks.

“We’re still in the very early parts of this outbreak,” Box said. “We will continue to see more cases.”

Holcomb urged all residents to take seriously the stay-at-home order that runs at least through April 6. Meanwhile, Trump said Tuesday he hoped to have “the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter” on April 12.

Holcomb said bluntly that any non-essential business “shouldn’t be” open in Indiana.

“We're trying to be as clear and blunt and serious about this as we can,” he said. “... We’re asking for citizens’ buy-in over the next two weeks.”

Five more coronavirus-related deaths were reported on Tuesday in Indiana, giving the state a total of 12, according to the Indiana State Department of Health. Central Indiana has the most confirmed illnesses, with 62% in Indianapolis and its seven adjourning counties.

Holcomb’s order directs residents to stay at home unless their job is an essential function, such as a health care provider, grocery store clerk, police, fire and other first responders, or those working in garbage collection, public transit and key state services. It mirrors similar orders in adjacent Illinois, Michigan and Ohio and comes as New York’s governor warned Tuesday that its hospitals could soon be overwhelmed.

State police Superintendent Doug Carter said he had given guidance to all police agencies across Indiana to show discretion on enforcing the order.

“We all are seeing that our citizens are afraid, are confused and are wondering about their future, just like us,” Carter said.

For most people, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover.

State health officials don’t yet know how many of the Indiana virus patients are hospitalized and their conditions and it might be April 1 before they are able to track those effectively, Box said.

Indiana is awaiting the arrival of more protective equipment for medical workers from federal agencies, but Box said the state wasn’t relying on those deliveries. She mentioned other sources such as prison inmates making masks and gowns and the delay of non-urgent surgeries.

“Indiana is pretty homegrown and we’re figuring out some ways around this ourselves, making sure that we’re conserving our supplies as much as possible,” Box said.

Meanwhile, the United Auto Workers reported Tuesday night that two member workers died from COVID-19-related illnesses. One worked at the Fiat Chrysler assembly plant in Kokomo, Indiana, while the other worked at the Fiat Chrysler plant in Sterling Heights, Michigan. “This is a terrible tragedy for our entire UAW family,” said UAW President Rory Gamble in a Facebook posting.




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