INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana's state and health care officials are raising alarms about increasing pressure the coronavirus is putting on hospitals as patient counts this week more than quadrupled pandemic lows recorded just weeks ago.
The state reported that 1,616 residents were hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Tuesday, according to the most recent data released by the state health department. Of those, 408 were in intensive care, the most since Jan. 28.
The uptick comes one day after the state's hospitals recorded more than 1,500 COVID-19 patients for the first time since February.
The statewide patient count — which two weeks ago was fewer than 1,000 — prompted the Indiana Hospital Association to issue a warning and call for those who aren't yet vaccinated to do so immediately. The association reported that COVID-19 hospitalizations are up nearly 300% since July 4.
“Hoosiers should feel confident that Indiana’s hospitals are managing through the current situation by collaborating with one another and the state of Indiana," Brian Tabor, the association's president, said in a statement. “However, should the current trends continue, everyone in need of health care could be impacted."
State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box said Wednesday that unvaccinated people make up more than 97% of hospital admissions in Indiana. To relieve pressure on hospitals, more people need to get vaccinated, she said.
“Vaccination is the answer,” Box said. “That's the way that we're going to get control over this pandemic. That's the way we're going to win over this virus.”
Box also acknowledged long wait times for COVID-19 testing, noting that demand “skyrocketed” when many of the state’s testing sites were slowing down.
She said state officials have called back National Guard members to help local health departments with testing. The state is also looking to hire more health care workers to provide testing in schools, where demand has increased since the start of the new academic year.
On Monday, 62 counties were in Indiana’s second-riskiest category for the spread of the virus, up from 43 counties a week earlier, according to the most recent update posted Wednesday on the state’s coronavirus dashboard.
Indiana’s color-coded coronavirus risk map reflects weekly COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents and the seven-day positivity rate.
Eleven counties are in the highest-risk red category, which indicates very high community spread, up from eight last week.
Only 19 counties are listed as moderate-risk, or yellow, a drop from 40 a week ago. For the first time since Feb. 3, no Indiana county is blue — low risk.
Indiana recorded 3,558 new cases of the coronavirus Wednesday, up from 2,507 one week ago, and marking the highest one-day total since Jan. 22.
Tests conducted this month on a sample of Indiana’s cases showed that as of Wednesday, nearly 83% of them were the delta variant, the dashboard showed.
Indiana’s top health officials have warned that the highly contagious delta variant will continue to spread if vaccination rates do not improve. About 51% of Indiana’s eligible population — those age 12 and up — are fully vaccinated, according to the state health department.
Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb ended a statewide mask requirement in May, when virus spread had tapered and hospitalizations were on the decline. The governor said Wednesday that he’s concerned about the delta variant but will leave decisions about mask requirements and other restrictions up to local officials.
“We're not in the same place we were over a year ago,” Holcomb said. “We'll continue to make sure local communities and counties have the resources they need so we can help them help themselves.”
Casey Smith is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.