INDIANAPOLIS – Tougher restrictive measures could be on the way in Marion County if the coronavirus pandemic continues to get worse.
That’s according to Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett and Marion County Public Health Department Director Dr. Virginia Caine.
Hogsett said the city would consider rolling back some of the eased restrictions if the positivity rate reaches double digits.
Right now, Marion County’s positivity rate is near 7%, Caine said, after dipping below 5% at the end of September. Since then, the number of cases in Marion County has increased—and so has the positivity rate.
With winter weather on the way, Halloween days away, and thousands voting early for the upcoming election, Hogsett said personal coronavirus mitigation measures are imperative.
“Continue wearing masks in public. Wear masks when in public and wear them properly,” Hogsett said.
Caine emphasized mask wearing, social distancing and the avoidance of large crowds. Both pleaded for people to participate in the contact tracing program.
Hogsett said contact tracers are having trouble getting in touch with people who may have been exposed to the coronavirus.
“Please, please, please, answer your phones,” Hogsett said, adding that it was the best tool contact tracers had. He realizes that people are less inclined to answer their phones these days.
The mayor said he and other leaders are keeping a close eye on cases, positivity rates and deaths. With more people staying inside as the weather turns colder, he’s concerned the pandemic may worsen.
“More of our neighbors will get sick. Some will die,” he said of the pandemic. “The only option available to us may be to return to more stringent mitigation efforts.”
Hogsett said a frequent question he gets is about the timeline for office workers to return to their buildings. He couldn’t offer such a timeline, saying he wouldn’t speak for Indy’s companies.
“They aren’t just looking at Marion County alone. That’s because now, more than ever, we must recognize that we have a regional economy in the Indianapolis metropolitan area,” he said.
Hogsett suggested that strategies to mitigate the coronavirus must be regional. He’s requesting regional collaboration involving Marion County and its surrounding counties.
“As we head into the winter, we are still fighting this virus,” he said. “And fatigue set in a long time ago. But this morning, I will renew my request that each and every one of you take care of yourselves.”
He urged people to get tested if they’ve been exposed—even if they’re not experiencing any symptoms.
Caine provided an overview of COVID-19 data for Indianapolis and Marion County.
She said 35 U.S. states are seeing significant increases in cases, especially in the Midwest. In early October, Caine said the slope began to increase for Indiana. Some areas of the state are close to hospital capacity, Caine said.
The recent challenge for Marion County is the positivity rate; at the end of September, Marion County had gotten to a rate under 5%. Since then, the positivity rate has been on a steady increase (it’s currently near 7%).
She called being under 5% “the gold standard” and said, if the county reached double digits, some of the restrictive measures may have to be tightened in Marion County.
“If it gets to double digits, that’s a major, major concern for us,” she said. “It depends on all of us to make that turnaround.”
Like Hogsett, she acknowledged that fatigue is setting in and urged people not to let their guard down.
Cases per day in Marion County stand at 209; in September, the county was seeing 100 cases per day and it even dipped to 84 earlier in the month.
The “gold standard” is fewer than 35 cases per day, Caine said. Emergency room visits are relatively flat, although they are showing a gradual upward trend. Hospital admissions are relatively flat at 8.4 per day.
Caine suggested that respiratory ailments like the flu would put an additional strain on resources as the pandemic continues.
She noted that the county is averaging under two deaths per day, a sign that treatments are working and healthcare workers are better equipped to handle COVID-19 patients. She’s also watching surrounding counties, most of which show increases in cases per 100,000 people.
Shelby County has gone up “dramatically,” Caine pointed out, with cases quadrupling over a two-week period.
Caine did offer some positive news: cases among elementary and high school students showed a month-to-month decline from September (19.5%) to October (14.2%).
On the other hand, cases among residents 60 and older went up from September (11.5%) to October (15.5%).
“Everyone, be careful of your seniors,” Caine said. “If they’re your parents, if they’re your friends. We need to safeguard them.”
There will be no changes to current public health orders, Caine said. Mask rules remain in place, there are limitations on large gatherings and people should practice social distancing.
For every person who tested positive for COVID-19, there are 10 people who are likely positive but are unaware that they have it, Caine said, citing a study from the IU Fairbanks School of Public Health.
She wants to expand COVID-19 testing in Marion County to include asymptomatic individuals and said Fairbanks would run a randomized study to test asymptomatic people.