The Journal Gazette
Thursday, March 26, 2020 5:30 pm

Number, location of intensive care beds, ventilators part of planning

Health commissioner expects capacity to double in coming weeks

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – As coronavirus cases rise, Indiana’s health commissioner won’t say how many intensive care beds and ventilators hospitals have in the state.

"I’m really not going to be a numbers person about this because it changes every single day," Dr. Kristina Box said Thursday.

The news comes as Allen County reported nine new COVID-19 cases, bringing its total to 19. Whitley County also announced its first case.

Overall, at least 645 Hoosiers are infected -- an increase of 170 Hoosiers. Several more people have died from the novel coronavirus for a total of 17 deaths statewide.

A total of 4,651 tests have been reported to the Indiana State Department of Health, up from 3,356 one day before.

Box said her agency has asked hospitals to update EMResource -- a public health management tool -- with baseline numbers for both ICU beds and ventilators in the statewide dashboard. And she is asking them to identify a realistic surge capacity they hope to hit by repurposing beds or buying and borrowing ventilators.

"I will never share hard numbers with you, because this is information that the hospital systems have put into this and I am going to respect their privacy with regards to this," Box said.

Some states, such as New York, are already running out of ventilators. A 2005 Health and Human Services report said more than 740,000 Americans could need ventilators in a severe outbreak such as the 1918 flu.

National data put out by Kaiser Health News shows ICU beds down to each county. For instance, it said Allen County has 170 and DeKalb County has eight. A number of area counties, such as Huntington and Whitley, have no ICU beds.

Box said hospitals are making changes every day to add to those numbers and she expects hospitals to double capacity in the coming weeks.

Kaiser didn’t have ventilator data, nor would the Indiana Hospital Association provide it. Attempts to get numbers from local health systems have been unsuccessful.

Other states, though, have shared the data – including Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota.

The Center for Health Security at Johns Hopkins estimated the United States has about 160,000 ventilators available, with a small amount more in the national stockpile.

Gov. Eric Holcomb also responded Thursday to whether his stay-at-home order -- now in its third day -- is having an effect given the wide exemptions in the order. "Essential" businesses such as florists, liquor stores and realtors can still operate.

But Holcomb said the order is already changing people’s behavior.

"I do understand questioning of some of the exemptions," he said, noting that landscapers, for instance, can still work as long as they maintain 6-foot separation from people.

"This is not encouragement to break the rules. If you want to see the proof in the pudding, go outside and look at the change in traffic patterns," Holcomb said. "It’s all in an effort to get through this so 100% can go back to work."

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