INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Monument Circle sits at the literal and figurative center of Indiana in downtown Indianapolis.
With more positive COVID-19 patients and deaths than anywhere else in the state, Marion County is in the middle of the coronavirus storm that is sweeping the country.
When it comes to per capita infections, Indianapolis is swinging way above its weight class, and it’s got nothing to do with testing more people.
Whether it’s the general health of the population, the density of the capitol city or the curse of being the Crossroads of America, Indianapolis’ infection rate per 100,000 residents outpaces not only similarly-sized and situated regional cities like Louisville, Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio, but it’s beating Chicago too when counting infected citizens among their neighbors.
“The first law of geography is everything is related to everything else, but near things are more related than distant things,” said Marianne Cardwell, a geographer at the POLIS Center at IUPUI.
“You can’t just think of it in terms of miles but also time. We have three interstates that go into the city; that brings other locations closer to us. We are gonna get more traffic that way. More people are coming from other cities like Chicago, Detroit, Louisville and others.”
Health authorities may worry about the virus arriving in Indianapolis along the interstate from other cities and states, but it’s more likely officials in those other locales might be more concerned that Indianapolis’ infections may sicken their neighbors.
Per capita statistical findings published by the POLIS Center at IUPUI indicate that Indianapolis’ rate of infection per 100,000 residents is out of proportion with that those other cities.
“I may want to see what the prevalence of the disease is per capita,” said Cardwell. “So I’ve been doing per 100,000 people because that really does give you a different picture of what things look like.”
According to data released Monday, Indianapolis’ per capita infection rate was 203 per 100,000.
By comparison, Columbus, Ohio, with a larger population, had a per capita rate of 49, while Cincinnati and Louisville, almost as large as Indy, had per capita rates of 48. Chicago, with more than five million residents, had more positive cases, but just 156 positive test results per 100,000 residents.
And the answer is not because Indiana and Indianapolis have done more testing and therefore found more positive results.
Earlier this week, State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box reported that Indiana has been doing 336 coronavirus tests per 100,000 people.
By comparison, Ohio and Kentucky report nearly 400 tests per capita, with Illinois and Michigan inching toward 500 and the United States as a whole surpassing that mark.
Dr. Box said she is hopeful in the coming weeks that Indiana will have the ability to do 6,300 tests per day, up from its current level of 2573 that were conducted yesterday.
“We still don't have the ability to test everyone without symptoms due to our limited resources,” she said during a Tuesday press briefing with Governor Eric Holcomb.
Those ramped up testing goals may not hit in time to dampen the coronavirus patient surge that is expected to swarm Indiana hospitals April 17.
The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation of the University of Washington has been tracking Indiana’s COVID-19 outbreak utilizing statistics released daily by the Indiana State Department of Health.
Tuesday morning, those numbers reported the one day death toll jumped 34 from Monday to a total of 173 Hoosier lives claimed by the virus in less than a month, with 48 fatalities occurring in Marion County.
5,507 state residents have tested positive for the disease -- up 568 cases from Monday -- while an additional 193 Marion County tests came back positive, totaling 2,141 confirmed cases in Indianapolis.
The IHME model predicts that when the patient peak hits next week, 97 lives will be lost on April 16 before the surge curve gently declines until May 6, and the virus will claim its 1681st and final Hoosier life.
Dr. Box revealed hospital readiness data that would indicate Indiana medical care facilities should not be overwhelmed statewide by the surge.
“With regards to ventilators, as of March 1st, our baseline showed 1,177 ventilators across the state in our hospitals for use,” said Dr. Box. “By March 30th, we had increased that to 1,927. As of (Monday) we have 2,642 vents that are available and actually in our hospital systems to be used, with another 455 that have been identified for potential use if needed for a total of 3,097 ventilators.”
The IHME model predicts 735 patients will need ventilation on the worst day of the surge, April 17.
“As of April 5th, 27% of the vents in our hospitals are in use,” said Dr. Box, indicating the state was not close to currently utilizing its ventilator capacity, “with 17% being used by COVID patients.”
Similarly, Indiana hospitals have scrambled to reconfigure space into intensive care units.
“With regards to ICU beds, as of March 1st, we had a baseline of 1,132 ICU beds in the state of Indiana,” said Dr. Box. “As of April 1st, that number had increased to 2,188 because our hospitals had done such a wonderful job at converting every room possible into an ICU room. By April 4th, that had jumped to 2,964.
“About 58% of those ICU beds across the state are currently occupied, and that about 60% occupancy rate has maintained very stable over the last week.
“Of those 58% of ICU beds that are occupied, 31% of those are occupied by COVID-19 patients.”
Dr. Box said her greater concern was the number of trained and qualified staff on hand to assist those patients, while other medical care professionals have told FOX59 they worry about a potential shortage in drugs essential to the recovery of ventilated patients.
At the POLIS Center at IUPUI, Cardwell keeps looking at her maps and tries to figure out what the coronavirus infection in Indiana will look like after the surge is past.
“Once we’re past that initial bump in cases, the big question is gonna be: How can we open back up and keep us safe?” asked Cardwell. “Are we going to have to put limits on cross-states traffic? I don’t know that that’s really realistic.
“As a geographer, there’s definitely a lot of different ways for people to come into our state and bring disease in.”
During Monday’s press briefing, Governor Holcomb was asked if he was frustrated that other governors did not follow his lead and issue stay-at-home orders, and once the initial outbreak passes, if he fears that the virus could take hold elsewhere and return to Indiana.
“Frustration might not be a word I chose,” said Holcomb. “I would just ask for everyone to be open minded and enlightened by the facts on the ground. We see how this spreads, and we see proof positive cases where mitigation efforts have worked, and we see where ignorance or avoidance has not.”
While extending his stay-at-home order another two weeks and adding more restrictions, the governor was asked if Hoosiers should prepare to spend Mother’s Day on May 10 at home instead of dining out with family.
“This virus does not care about holidays,” he said. “It does not care what day it is on a calendar. We’ll be driven by the guidance of physicians and scientists, and we’ll let the facts speak for themselves.”