A Michiana hospital system urges a local school board to revisit its decision to make masks optional. Indiana is calling up National Guard members to help local health departments with COVID-19 testing. And the Indiana Department of Health reported more than 4,000 new COVID-19 cases Friday, crossing yet another milestone in its late summer surge.
Indiana surpassed 800,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases last Monday, with more than 40,000 reported in August.
As recently as June, daily cases reached a pandemic-low average – just 282 cases per day. July’s daily average climbed to more than 600 per day. So far in August, Indiana has averaged more than 2,900 new cases per day.
In the last seven days, Indiana has reported more than 20,000 new cases, nearly half of the month’s total. It has also reported more than 70 deaths for the second week in a row.
The Indiana Department of Health reported more than 4,000 new COVID-19 cases Friday. This is the first time since Jan. 14 the state has reported this many cases in a single day. On Thursday, the state surpassed another record – the highest number of new daily cases since the state’s first fully vaccinated resident.
The State's Response
Indiana is gearing up to increase the availability of COVID-19 tests in response to significantly higher demand.
Indiana shuttered its state-run OptumServe testing sites after June. Gov. Eric Holcomb said he’s gotten reports that people are now having to wait hours to get tested.
“I’m actually, on the other hand, encouraged that people are going to get tested,” Holcomb said.
The state is calling up National Guard members to help local health departments. State health employees are being re-tasked to testing.
And State Health Commissioner Dr. Kris Box said the state is working to get more COVID-19 testing in schools as colds, flus and other viruses become more common.
The Indiana Department of Health will notify nearly 750,000 Hoosiers that data from the state’s COVID-19 online contact tracing survey was improperly accessed. The data included name, address, email, date of birth and demographic information collected during contact tracing.
The state will send letters to those affected by the breach and provide one year of free credit monitoring.
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State officials said in a statement the company that accessed the data looks for software vulnerabilities and then reaches out to drum up business. They said the software issue has been corrected, and the company told the state the data was not released to any other entity and was destroyed.
Apu Kapadia is a professor in Indiana University’s department of computer science. He said breaches to large businesses or other organizations are not uncommon, and said it’s part of taking part in digital commerce.
Indiana, like many states in the U.S., is experiencing a rapid increase in the number of children in hospitals due to COVID-19.
One in 38 kids with a positive COVID-19 test is hospitalized in Indiana. Dr. Gabriel Bosslet is a pulmonary and critical care physician and professor at Indiana University’s School of Medicine. He said the data is not necessarily as bad as it seems.
“That’s not all the cases right? A lot of kids have COVID that are never tested. So it’s not 1 out of 38 kids who ever get COVID, but 1 out of the 38 of the detected cases,” Bosslet said.
By comparison, Indiana’s rate is better than Ohio’s – Bosslet said 1 in 18 kids with a positive COVID-19 test are hospitalized in Ohio.
This increase in Indiana’s cases has caused pediatric specialists from Riley Hospital for Children to sound the alarm.
Riley physicians said their COVID-19 hospitalizations are at the highest they’ve been in months – the facility receives sick kids from across the state, as a nationally recognized pediatric hospital.
Dr. Brian Wagers, Riley’s associate chief medical officer and an emergency medicine physician, said Indiana’s pediatric hospitalizations are very similar to what the rest of the country is experiencing.
“I will say we have many more patients in our hospital that are admitted for RSV and other respiratory illnesses right now, than COVID-19,” Wagers said. “But we still have a higher number than we’ve had at many times previously in the pandemic.”
RSV is a common respiratory virus that usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms. But for children younger than 1, it can cause bronchiolitis and pneumonia.
Last week, the Penn-Harris-Madison School Corporation approved a mask-optional policy for students and staff this school year. Now, the area’s only children’s hospital is now urging the district to change that policy.
Five Beacon Health officials signed an Aug. 16 letter to the P-H-M school board saying the mask-optional policy “ignores the science and severity of the delta variant of the COVID-19 virus.”
They include Memorial Hospital and Beacon Children’s Hospital President Larry Tracy, Beacon Children’s Hospital Medical Director Dr. Amanda Dutkiewicz, Memorial Hospital Vice President of Medical Affairs Dr. Dale Patterson, pediatric infectious disease specialist Dr. Asad Ansari and infectious disease specialist Dr. Majorie Daoud.
The group said the country is experiencing an “aggressive surge” of the highly transmissible and contagious delta variant, and masking is the most effective strategy to stop the spread.
Classes at many Hoosier colleges, including Ball State University, begin on Monday. Students and faculty will return to campus for a second academic year in a global health pandemic.
At the traditional academic year opening speech Friday, Ball State President Geoffrey Mearns told faculty that in-person classes are vital to show the importance of higher education.
“Please remember that every moment you are given to interact face-to-face with one of our students, it’s an opportunity. It’s a gift,” Mearns said. “And please know that your engagement with them will change their lives.”
Mearns said since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, more than 10,000 students have earned their Ball State degree.
Ball State, which highly encourages the COVID-19 vaccine, said about 62 percent of all registered students and 73 percent of employees report being vaccinated, as of last week.