New coronavirus patient admissions are pushing up occupancy rates in local hospitals, which were already reaching full capacity as physicians resumed performing elective surgeries, officials said Friday.
Parkview Health and Lutheran Health Network officials said they are able to adapt to the dynamic situation, reallocating resources as needed. Even so, they urge residents to take precautions to avoid contracting COVID-19.
Since Indiana started reopening its economy three weeks ago, the new coronavirus has steadily infected more Allen County residents and sent more of the most seriously ill to the hospital, local health care officials said Friday.
The three days with the county's most new confirmed cases have all occurred within the past 10 days.
Although an increase in infections was expected, local and state officials are reminding residents to take precautions against COVID-19, which is still a potentially deadly threat.
Dr. Deborah McMahan, Allen County health commissioner, said loosening state restrictions doesn't signal the coronavirus has been eradicated.
“Please continue to use recommended precautions,” McMahan said in a statement. “Because many people can carry the virus without having any symptoms, these efforts are not just to protect yourself but everyone you come in contact with.”
Dr. Kris Box, the state health commissioner, referred to Allen County's increase in infections during Gov. Eric Holcomb's coronavirus update Friday. She echoed the message that Hoosiers need to wear face masks and maintain 6-foot social distancing.
“Life is not back to normal, like the normal we knew before COVID,” she said.
Allen County had recorded 1,797 confirmed positive cases as of midday Friday and 77 deaths, according to the Allen County Department of Health. That included 62 newly confirmed positive cases.
DeKalb County officials Friday reported 10 new confirmed cases.
Statewide, 533 more Hoosiers have been diagnosed with COVID-19, bringing the total to 36,578, officials said Friday. COVID-19 deaths in Indiana increased by 27 to 2,078 total, officials said.
Allen County Health Department officials compared the two-week periods of April 19 to May 2, which was at the end of the strictest stay-at-home guidelines, with May 18 to 31, which was when those guidelines loosened. During that time, the average seven-day running total of local COVID-19 cases increased by almost 54%, they said.
Dr. Box said that as testing has become more widespread, confirmed cases have climbed at a corresponding rate.
Dr. Jeffrey Boord, Parkview Health's chief quality and safety officer, disagreed with that description in a later phone interview. He said a recent increase in hospital admissions for COVID-19 contradicts the idea that the same rate of infection is present but just wasn't officially confirmed before widespread testing.
If the coronavirus were present at the same rate, he said, hospitalizations wouldn't be climbing.
“There's just a higher number of cases in total,” Boord added.
Parkview hospitals' occupancy is above 90%, a level Boord said isn't unusual. He described the patient census as “a snapshot at any moment in time.” Numbers change throughout every day as patients are admitted and discharged, he said.
Officials are monitoring Parkview's demand for coronavirus beds and have the ability to reschedule elective surgeries if more beds are needed, he said.
Physicians evaluate patients' conditions to determine who can safely wait a bit longer, Boord said.
The six community hospitals in the Parkview network can treat all but the sickest coronavirus patients, which also adds to the system's capacity.
Kara Stevenson, Lutheran's spokeswoman, said officials at Lutheran and Dupont hospitals “carefully monitor needs” to ensure they are “prepared for any changes in the current COVID-19 situation in our community.”
Although they are able to shift resources, local health care officials don't want northeast Indiana residents to become indifferent to the danger the coronavirus poses – especially to the elderly and those with existing medical conditions.
Boord stressed the importance of social distancing and hand washing.
“I'm concerned about the health of our community,” he said. “We do not want people to become ill if it can be prevented.”
Lutheran officials have the same concerns, according to the news release from the county Health Department.
Dr. Vishal Bhatia, Lutheran Health Network's regional chief medical officer, also pointed to the public's role in limiting the virus' spread. That includes wearing a cloth face mask that covers both mouth and nose.
“We know doing these things increases safety for all and makes a significant impact,” Bhatia said.