Local health department sounds alarm on increasing ER visits
Group uses gong to remembers Hoosiers lost to COVID-19, Friday, Oct. 9, 2020.
MUNCIE, Ind. — The sharp rise in emergency room visits during the COVID-19 pandemic caused Delaware County Health Department officials to sound the alarm Tuesday.
Jammie Bane, Delaware County Health Department administrator, said that ongoing discussions with local healthcare providers have raised concerns over the status of COVID-19 in East Central Indiana.
“Early on we talked about flattening the curve in order to protect our critical healthcare infrastructure and its ability to care for individuals needing any form of medical care,” Bane said in the release. “We’re seeing some changes to this now, with single digit hospitalization numbers in the past (increasing) to numbers approaching 50 at some points now.”
On Oct. 8, IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital saw more than 170 people utilize its emergency department, about one-third of whom were coming in for COVID-19 concerns.
Daily hospitalizations for COVID-19 set a record high on Monday at 156 patients according to the Indiana State Department of Health’s hospital census across District 6, which includes most of East Central Indiana.
The previous record was at 148 patients set on April 8.
The majority of people getting admitted to the Muncie hospital with COVID-19 have respiratory or breathing issues, according to Peter Voss, chief medical officer of IU Health BMH.
A majority of those people, however, are not in the intensive care unit and not on ventilators.
The hospital as a whole has remained busy since beginning to reopen services in May, and a continued level of COVID-19 patients has put a strain on the emergency department.
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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 spreads very easily from person to person, and most commonly through close contact. This occurs primarily through contact with respiratory droplets that are exhaled, or expelled while speaking, coughing, sneezing, singing, etc. For this reason, avoiding crowds and social distancing of 6 feet minimum is critical to minimizing your risk of contracting COVID-19.
The use of masks, social distancing and proper hygiene including handwashing is critical to slowing the spread of the virus, health officials warn.
“We’re worried that the statewide move into phase 5 of the Governor’s reopening plan has caused people to get careless. This pandemic is still here,” Donna Wilkins, Delaware County health officer, said in the DCHD press release.
The number of admitted patients with the virus at the region’s IU Health hospitals hit an all-time high of more than 45 last week. IU Health Ball Memorial saw about 42 COVID-19 patients this week, with another four between IU Health Blackford and Jay hospitals.
When to use the Emergency Department
As beds continue to be filled, hospital officials are recommending residents only use the emergency department in a true emergency, including chest pain, stroke symptoms, shortness of breath or other emergent symptoms.
The hospital also lists broken bones, wounds that need stitches, head injuries, severe cold or flu symptoms, loss of consciousness, burns and severe abdominal pain as reasons to use the department.
For non-emergencies, including sprains, urinary tract infections, rashes and common illnesses, Officials suggested patients visit their healthcare provider to discuss treatment.
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For those who just have a concern or are uncertain if they have COVID-19, Voss recommends calling a primary care doctor.
In an Oct. 8 release from IU Health, the hospital asked those with symptoms of COVID-19 to call ahead to a primary care doctor, a nearby hospital or health department, or use IU Health’s free virtual screening clinic (iuhealth.org/covid19/virtual-coronavirus-screening) so medical providers can be prepared to receive patients and avoid exposure themselves.
What are local case numbers for the virus?
According to the Indiana State Department of Health, Delaware County saw 37 new cases of coronavirus on Monday, with one additional death on Oct. 9. That brings the total case count for the county to 2,513 total cases and 71 deaths.
According to ISDH figures, the county had an 8.4 % seven-day positivity rate as of Oct. 6. The CDC suggests that number should be well below 5%.
The state as a whole reported 1,569 new cases of coronavirus and an additional 27 deaths, bringing the state’s totals to 138,104 cases and 3,595 deaths since the pandemic began.
The average number of new daily cases over the past seven days, a measure that has been steadily ticking up over the past week, exceeded 1,600 for the first time since the pandemic began.
Health department discourages unsafe events
“We’re seeing indoor events advertised like concerts and wrestling events These types of gatherings should be avoided at this time,” Wilkins said in the release. “They should not be hosted, and they should not be attended.”
“We’re recommending at this time that individuals reconsider their plans to attend any indoor or even outdoor events where social distancing and proper mask use are not being followed or enforced,” Wilkins added.
Local public health restrictions regarding the pandemic are set by the Delaware County commissioners. The commissioners have mirrored the state’s reopening plan since it was implemented, moving to Stage 5 at the end of September on the state’s recommendation.
That allowed restaurants, bars, fitness centers and stores to operate at full capacity. In fact, few overall restrictions are in place on public gatherings beyond the statewide mask mandate, which is set to expire on Oct. 17. People are still expected to maintain social distancing in these places and keep their masks on while not eating or drinking.
When asked last week if the hospital’s announcement of a surge of COVID-19 cases would have any bearing on restrictions currently in place, Delaware County Commissioner Shannon Henry said that it had not.
The county commissioners had not received specific guidance from the local health department following the hospital’s announcement last week, but said that they communicate regularly about the pandemic.
“We as a community have the ability to slow the spread of this virus. Take responsibility for your own health and that of your family and loved ones first and foremost,” Bane said in Tuesday’s release.
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