The Journal Gazette
Friday, March 27, 2020 1:00 am

State being coy about equipment

Bed, ventilator count withheld as cases grow

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 the 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 bringing the state total to 17.

The Indiana State Department of Health has received 4,651 tests – 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 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 are already running out of ventilators, such as New York. A 2005 Health and Human Services reports 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 has eight.

A number of area counties have no ICU beds, such as Huntington and Whitley counties.

Box said hospitals are making changes every day to add to those numbers and she expects them 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 impact 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 six-foot separation.

“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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