There were eight confirmed cases of COVID-19 among Allen County residents as of Wednesday afternoon.
But the actual number of local patients fighting the new coronavirus likely is much higher, public health experts reiterated in a conference call with reporters.
Limited testing – and delays in getting results to health departments – has made it hard to keep an accurate count. Further complicating things, some patients might have symptoms associated with the virus and not meet strict criteria for testing.
Those cases often are not relayed to local agencies, though Erika Pitcher, Allen County Health Department director of community health and case management, said health care providers have passed along personal accounts of such situations.
“That's not something that's reportable to the health department,” she said. “I do think it's more than a handful.”
The information is not new – experts including county Health Commissioner Dr. Deborah McMahan have been saying for weeks it will be difficult to track the number of infected patients.
But it underscores the difficulty of the task at hand for doctors and hospitals: treat those who need help but also work to ensure that others, including health care providers, are safe through quarantine and social distancing.
Dr. James Cameron, a neonatologist and member of the county Board of Health, said “we're still at the beginning of the curve,” referring to the first local cases popping up.
“Our hope is that gets stretched out by the social-distancing measures that are being put in place,” he said.
Fourteen Hoosiers have been killed by the virus, as of Wednesday, according to the Indiana State Department of Health. One of those was an Allen County resident.
Medical staffs of Lutheran and Parkview hospitals are working hard to help, spokeswomen for both said Wednesday, but they're also facing challenges including keeping enough personal protective equipment such as masks on hand.
Tami Brigle, Parkview spokeswoman, said staffers there are following guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention allowing medical professionals to wear masks for longer periods, provided they're not damaged or soiled.
“Our clinical leaders are also implementing care protocols, such as patient cohorting, to create more efficient use of our supplies,” she said. “Additionally, our support teams are researching alternative options for locally sourcing personal protective equipment.”
At Lutheran, spokeswoman Kara Stevenson said staffers have been told about the CDC guidelines.
“We consistently monitor our supply inventories based on the number of patients in our care,” she said. “We have sufficient supplies on hand and are preserving and conserving our PPE inventory in accordance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance. Our resources are being increased so we will be prepared for the event of a patient surge.”
McMahan lauded both facilities for being innovative.
“They're going to have to do things to maintain the things they have,” she said. “We're OK, but we're taking some very innovative measures to make sure we're OK.”