Tippecanoe County Health Officer Dr. Jeremy Adler said Wednesday the local surge in COVID-19 cases is reaching a “crisis level”, as the systems in place to help infected residents continue to strain under rising case counts. This includes area hospitals, as more coronavirus patients arrive in need of care; testing facilities, with longer wait times for both tests and results; and contact tracing, as the health department grapples with multiple days yielding over 100 -- and 200 -- reported cases.
Adler said while the county remains orange on the state’s COVID-19 metrics map, he expects it to “quickly” shift into red in the next week -- the most serious category.
“When our county becomes red, our schools may likely need to close -- which will have a profound impact not only on students, but their families,” Adler said.
The Indiana State Department of Health reported 179 cases in Tippecanoe County in its Wednesday update, and one additional death from COVID-19. Adler said the county averaged 207 cases per day over the past week. On Wednesday, 93 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 between IU Health Arnett and Franciscan Health Lafayette, with 23 of those patients in the intensive care unit and nine on ventilators.
“So the highest numbers we’ve seen yet,” Adler said. “A significant rise from even last week, where we had 73 -- a peak of 73 individuals with COVID-19 in our hospitals.”
Once the county reaches or exceeds the 10% all-tests positivity rate, the health department’s order restricting capacity at establishments ranging from restaurants to gyms will go into effect. Adler said the health department would give 48 hours of notice to allow local businesses time to adjust to the new rules.
IU Health Arnett Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jim Bien and Dr. Dan Wickert, vice president of medical affairs at Franciscan Health Lafayette, also underlined the staffing challenges area hospitals are facing as employees are affected by the pandemic.
“We are confronting a volume challenge that’s being complicated by a staffing challenge,” Bien said. “Because many healthcare workers are also responding to the needs of their family or themselves who are dealing with this illness.”
Bien said IU Health Arnett continues to expand care into atypical spaces, including a planned move to place patients in the ambulance bay -- a move he said the hospital intended to make Wednesday, but postponed due to a lack of staff.
“We have more people in the ICU than the building’s typically designed for,” Bien said, adding that the revamps are being done safely.
“We are just completing a revision of our education classrooms in order to add ten more beds onto the ground level of the hospital, in space that -- a month ago -- was an education or conference room,” Bien said.
County Commissioner Tracy Brown said he hears arguments for and against mask wearing, social distancing, and shutdowns without consideration of the increasing stress on local healthcare systems.
“What has gotten my attention are the words that Dr. Bien and Dr. Wickert about what they are facing day in and day out,” Brown said. “With a staff shortage, and with facilities that were not built to deal with this. And I don’t know what it’s going to take to get people to wake up.”