While You Were Sleeping: Coronavirus updates for November 24

Coronavirus

INDIANAPOLIS — There were several developments in the coronavirus pandemic that you may have missed overnight.

Here’s a look:

Vaccine distribution. Roughly 50 hospitals across Indiana are preparing to administer a COVID-19 vaccine, according to state health officials during a briefing last week.

Good news about a vaccine could not come at a better time for the healthcare system.

AstraZeneca announced Monday that their coronavirus vaccine candidate reached up to 90% efficacy. The vaccine still requires regulatory approval before distribution.

Another company leading this front, Pfizer, requested emergency use authorization from the FDA for its COVID-19 vaccine. The FDA has scheduled a meeting of its Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee on December 10 to discuss the request from Pfizer, in partnership with BioNTech Manufacturing.

Moderna is not far behind. Early data for its COVID-19 vaccine suggests its efficacy is as strong as Pfizer’s vaccine. The company expects to seek emergency authorization as well.

Once a vaccine is ready for distribution, Indiana plans to administer it to people serving in healthcare settings, like hospitals or long-term care facilities.

Hospitals across the state, including Reid Health, are struggling with staffing amid a spike in COVID-19 cases. Dr. Thomas Huth, VP of medical affairs at Reid Health, said he will be one of the first in line to receive the COVID-19 vaccine when it is available in Wayne County.

The campus is already setting up a vaccination clinic so they are ready when it is available for distribution.

“We have acquired a refrigerator that is capable of reaching the ultra low temperatures and capable of holding a lot of vaccine,” said Dr. Huth.

Dr. Huth said Reid Hospital’s vaccine distribution will cover four counties. In Phase 1-A, he expects they will vaccinate a minimum of 1,700 people.

“The state is reaching out to professionals who are licensed in the state and have residence in this area about how to sign up for a time slot,” he said.

Hamilton County is making preparations too. The county health department showed us a trailer they bought for testing and vaccinations.

“At the end of the day, we can dispense vaccine out of either of these windows. We can do it directly inside of here,” said Christian Walker, the public health preparedness coordinator for the Hamilton County Health Department.

Health officials expect to receive the Pfizer vaccine first. A team in Indiana will review the research before anyone administers it in the state.

The state has established five pilot sites for the administration of a COVID-19 vaccine. Those include Community Hospital in Munster, Clark Memorial in Jeffersonville, Deaconess Hospital in Evansville, IU Methodist in Indianapolis and Parkview Health in Fort Wayne.

Dr. Lindsay Weaver, chief medical officer for the Indiana State Department of Health, said shipments of the vaccine could come as soon as two days after emergency use authorization is issued.

Mask complaints up. Some local health departments are taking a more aggressive approach to responding to complaints they receive about mask mandate violations.

Since Indiana’s statewide mask mandate took effect in July as part of the state’s effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, Johnson County Health officials have received roughly 400 complaints about mask violations. Those complaints have increased since new county-by-county restrictions took effect on November 16.

“We see most of our violators are the big box stores where you’ll walk in and there’ll be 25, 30, 45 people that don’t have mask on,” said Johnson County Health Director, Betsy Swearingen. “We’ve asked them to set a table up and ask those customers as they’re walking in, that aren’t wearing a mask, to put one on.”

The Marion County Public Health Department (MCPHD) also reports more complaints within the last week.

“MCPHD did see an increase in calls earlier last week after the revised public health order for Marion County (and the executive order from Gov. Holcomb) went into effect on Nov. 16,” said spokesperson Curt Brantingham.  

Swearingen says her department is now making a more aggressive response to such complaints. 

Before the county was classified as code “Orange” on the statewide map, a mask complaint resulted in a phone call for a conversation with a business owner or manager. Now, Johnson County Health Department workers are skipping the phone call and moving right to an in-person visit and inspection.

“You can disregard a phone call, but when you’re looking at a public health official in the eye and they’re telling you that you need to adhere to this mask mandate, I think it puts a little bit more teeth in it.”

The first in-person visit is considered a warning. The next complaint will result in a fine, anywhere between $50 and $500, depending on the severity of the violation. After that, more long-term sanctions can be imposed.

“If it’s a food facility and we can hold their license, we will hold their food license,” Swearingen said.

A suspended license could be reinstated after a business demonstrates mask requirements being followed and repeated complaints about the business stop, Swearingen said.

While mask requirements in big stores are intended to slow the spread of COVID-19, they can also lead to uncomfortable and possibly tense moments for store employees.

Kroger spokesperson, Eric Halvorson, said Kroger employees and store leaders are trained to encourage customers to wear masks and provide masks for shoppers who need them. However, store employees are not instructed to remove a shopper who refuses to wear a mask. That’s partially due to concerns about employee safety.

“We are trying to balance the interests of everyone involved,” Halvorson said.

Other big stores like Walmart and Lowe’s have similar policies, citing employee safety as the main concern.  

Meantime, local health departments appear poised to continue ramping up the response to mask violations complaints. In Hendricks County, health department workers plan to continue making a phone call to a business after a first mask complaint.  

Importance of 14-day quarantine. As COVID-19 cases continue to rise across the country, many are still confused about what happens after you’re exposed to someone with the coronavirus.

The Centers for Disease and Prevention says the incubation timeline for COVID-19 is up to 14 days. That means once someone has been exposed, they can test positive any time during that 14-day incubation period.

The CDC released a graphic explain what that means:

  • Day 0: Kate was exposed to COVID-19
  • Day 5: Kate got tested for COVID-19 and her results came back negative
  • Day 8: Thinking she didn’t have COVID-19, Kate went to work and a family gathering. She was contagious days 8 and 9, which is 48 hours before she showed symptoms. She exposed 22 people between work and the family gathering.
  • Day 10: Kate became symptomatic and tested positive.

The CDC has recommended canceling Thanksgiving travel and gatherings due to the surge in COVID-19 cases.

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Stay-at-home order? Officials in the nation’s largest county will discuss a possible stay-home order just days before Thanksgiving after a spike of coronavirus cases surpassed a threshold set by Los Angeles public health officials to trigger one.

An “impressive and alarming surge” of more than 6,000 new cases put Los Angeles County over a five-day average of 4,500 cases per day, said Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Monday. She declined to take action until county supervisors meet Tuesday.

If the county orders residents to stay home, it would be the first such action since mid-March when Gov. Gavin Newsom followed several counties and issued a statewide order that closed schools and severely restricted movement, except for essential workers or to buy groceries or pick up food.

Cases and hospitalizations have been rapidly rising across California in November. The state recorded its highest day of positive test results Saturday with more than 15,000. It had more than 14,000 cases Sunday. Hospitalizations have increased 77% over the past two weeks.

“At this rate, our hospitals won’t have any spare beds by Christmas time,” said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti about the situation in his city. Medical centers are prepared to increase capacity and the city has plans in place to set up field hospitals if necessary, Garcetti said.

Newsom has issued a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew for almost all state residents and urged residents to avoid nonessential travel — during what is typically the busiest travel days of the year. Anyone entering the state is advised to quarantine for two weeks.

If another stay-home order is issued, it could create a conflict for those who planned to get together for Thanksgiving. Officials have been urging people not to meet with more than two other households and to celebrate outside and follow physical distancing rules.

Newsom on Monday said gathering at Thanksgiving is risky and Ferrer went a step further. She urged people to only gather with members of their household.

Despite the advisory, millions of Californians are expected to travel on Thanksgiving, though mainly by car. Flights at San Francisco International Airport were down 75% from the same period last year, airport spokesman Doug Yakel said.

In Los Angeles, the county of 10 million residents has had a disproportionately large share of the state’s cases and deaths. Although it accounts for a quarter of the state’s 40 million residents, it has about a third of the cases and more than a third of the deaths.

Olympics update. Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike remains firm about being able to safely hold the Olympics next year despite growing concerns about Japan’s recent resurgence of COVID-19 infections.

Japan has experienced an uptick of the infections this month with a nationwide daily total exceeding 2,000 as the government tries to balance preventive measures and business activity without further hurting the pandemic-hit economy.

“As the host city, I’m determined to achieve the games whatever it takes,” Koike told a news conference in Tokyo on Tuesday.

Her comment comes a week after International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach’s visit to Tokyo, where he held a series of talks with Japanese Olympic officials, including Koike, to showcase their determination to pull off the games.

Koike said widespread use of masks among the Japanese is one of most effective safety measures that have spared Japan from the high rate of infections that have taken place in the United States and Europe.

Many Japanese used them as “moral duty” in trying to cooperate in disease prevention efforts, she said.

The recent steady climb in cases, however, could call into question plans to hold the Olympics. Bach said “participants” and athletes would be encouraged to get vaccinated in order to protect the Japanese public, but it is unclear how that would be addressed if cases surge in the host country.

Koike has met with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to discuss how to mitigate the recent resurgence of infections. Tokyo’s daily cases have also spiked in recent weeks.

Suga on Sunday announced a decision to partially suspend the government’s GoTo campaign that encourages travel and eating out with discounts to support the pandemic-hit businesses, after a wave of criticisms that his government was too slow to take steps despite experts’ repeated calls for government action.

Japan, during its seven-week state of emergency in April and May, had non-binding stay-home and business closure requests but still did better than many other countries.

Japan had about 134,000 cases with nearly 2,000 deaths as of Monday, according to the health ministry. Tokyo, after topping 500 cases last week, reported 186 new cases on Tuesday for a total of nearly 38,200 cases.

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