The Journal Gazette
Thursday, October 08, 2020 1:00 am

State officials urge using caution

Health chief concerned by rising COVID-19 statistics

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – With positivity rates and COVID-19 hospitalizations rising in the state, Gov. Eric Holcomb on Wednesday sat out of the weekly briefing with reporters for the first time since they began in March.

Instead, State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box took questions from the media during an earlier time slot. And at the normal briefing time, Holcomb joined Box on a short livestream but didn't interact with the media.

Box said the numbers are “grounds for concern” and cautioned Hoosiers that being in Stage 5 doesn't mean Indiana is back to normal.

They need to continue washing their hands, social distancing, wearing masks and staying home when sick, she said.

Indiana added 1,302 cases Wednesday and 17 new deaths for a total of 128,227 and 3,500, respectively.

An additional 72 Allen County residents tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total to 6,798 cases and 207 deaths. There were no new deaths in Allen County. Wells County was the only northeast Indiana county to report a new death.

The weekly county-by-county snapshot showed conditions worsening around the state. For example, there is now one county in red – the highest spread – and eight in orange. Last week there were none in red and four in orange.

There are now 44 yellow counties and 39 blue – compared with 32 yellow and 56 blue last week.

Box said the state is trying to address issues county by county and community by community now – noting a severe outbreak in southwest Indiana.

Holcomb pleaded with Hoosiers to maintain vigilance, saying people are attending more events and interacting with more people, both of which will cause the virus to spread if preventive measures aren't taken.

Meanwhile, Democrat Dr. Woody Myers – Holcomb's opponent – pointed out hospitalizations of COVID-19 cases are over 1,000 a day, the highest since late May.

“We're moving in the wrong direction and it's time to reverse course,” he said, saying Holcomb opened the state back up too soon.

But neither Holcomb nor Box said that is happening – noting most areas still have plenty of hospital capacity. They did urge Hoosiers to get their flu shots to help reduce the burden on the health care system.

Myers said with the state punting decisions, it has put local officials who are not epidemiologists in difficult positions to make critical decisions in isolation.

“We've abandoned that responsibility from everything I see,” he said of the governor. “They made a lot of suggestions and given flexibility. But no strong guidance.”

Indiana's seven-day positivity rate for all tests is now 5% – having risen from as low as 3.9% in mid-September. Nationally, health experts – and Box – have set 5% as a level they want to be under to contain the novel coronavirus.

That state number is far lower than a national look at positivity that the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center provides, which has Indiana at 12.9% .

The university calculates differently than the state with the biggest difference being Johns Hopkins uses only tests for unique individuals. That means people who have taken multiple tests – even months apart – are only counted once. It also excludes most tests by health care workers who are regularly tested and usually coming back negative.

Indiana also calculates the unique positivity rate separately, and it is at 9%.

Box said the reason the 9% and 12.9% don't match is because Johns Hopkins doesn't embargo data for a week before putting it in calculations. Because positive test results come back sooner than negative results, an embargo is used to flatten out spikes in the data.

“We feel like it's a much more accurate representation of our true positivity rate,” Box said.

Holcomb responded – “We like accuracy.”

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