State warns of ‘very steep rise’ in COVID-19 cases

Gov. Eric Holcomb and state health officials on Dec. 29 updated the state on the pandemic, warning that they expect a “very steep rise” in COVID-19 cases in coming weeks as the omicron variant converges with an ongoing delta surge.

The number of Hoosiers hospitalized with COVID-19 has reached its highest level in a year, and the overall hospital census in Indiana is at its highest level in five years, officials said. Just 9.2% of the state’s intensive care unit beds were available Dec. 29, the fewest available so far during the pandemic, according to the Indiana State Department of Health.

Patients are being held in the emergency room for hours and, sometimes days, until a bed becomes available, officials said. Others are being cared for in hallways and conference rooms.

Because of this demand, Indiana University Family and Internal Medicine in Nashville, 105 Willow St., will extend clinic hours in January. They will now be open until 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday.

Urgent, but non-life-threatening needs such as allergic reactions, sprains or strains may be treated at the clinic to help keep locals out of the emergency room.

Abdominal pain and stomach aches, allergic reactions, common cold and flu-like symptoms, cuts, scrapes, bites, earaches, minor burns, sprains or strains, strep and sore throat, upper respiratory infections and urinary tract infections will also be treated. The extended hours are not for true emergencies or routine checkups and medication refills.

The Indiana National Guard has been deployed to about two dozen hospitals across the state to help ease staffing shortages and issues.

Indiana is experiencing a shortage of rapid tests that has led to a 78% decrease in the weekly supply that state testing facilities have as people line up at some testing sites an hour before they open, officials said.

Indiana State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box said “this situation will get worse before it improves,” during a press conference last week.

Holcomb also announced last week he had signed an extension of the state’s public health emergency.

From Dec. 21 to 28, Brown County reported 39 new COVID-19 cases. The county remains in the red level of the ISDH virus spread map, which is the highest of four.

One new COVID-19 related death was reported in the county on Dec. 28, bringing the lives lost to the virus to 51.

Currently, the delta variant remains the predominant strain in Indiana, but health officials said they expect that to change quickly as the omicron variants gains a foothold in the state.

Box and Holcomb implored Hoosiers to get vaccinated, if not for themselves, then for children under age 5 who cannot be vaccinated yet and to also protect all the loved ones in their families. Call 211 to schedule a vaccine appointment.