While You Were Sleeping: Coronavirus updates for November 3

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

Here’s a look:

Indiana restrictions? As COVID-19 cases continue to surge, Hoosiers are hearing more about other countries and states imposing tighter restrictions to curb the spread of the virus.

In recent days, officials in England, Germany, Belgium, France and Greece announced additional lockdown measures. State and local officials in states like Illinois, Idaho, Colorado, Massachusetts and Texas have also announced tighter restrictions on businesses, schools and social gatherings.

Thomas Duszynski, director of epidemiology education at IUPUI, believes the fall surge of cases is the result of “COVID fatigue,” as many communities have taken steps to reopen.

“We believe a lot of this has to do with people letting their guard down,” Duszynski said. “That they’re gathering in these small clusters, whether it be in bars or restaurants or weddings.”

“We’re all kind of tired of this pandemic and tired of being socially isolated, but now is definitely not the time to let our guard down,” he continued.

If COVID-19 cases and deaths continue to increase, and in the absence of a vaccine, Duszynski says he could see Indiana officials imposing tighter restrictions to slow the spread of the virus.

“I think that’s a real possibility,” he said. “And I think that as those numbers keep creeping up, and if hospitalizations start reaching capacity, that’s really the only thing I think that’s going to work to slow this down.”

For his part, 30-year-old Charles Fields, of Bedford, is urging Hoosiers to take precautions in order to avoid what he went through back in April.

“I was on a ventilator for 18 days, and I actually had to be put on ECMO because my lungs were not recovering due to COVID,” Fields said. “It’s not really scary until I woke up and realized that. But what hurt the most was knowing that my friends and family had to go through that day by day.”

Dr. Shaun Grannis, vice president of data and analytics at Indianapolis-based Regenstrief, points out that policy makers must also consider the state’s capacity and ability to treat and manage patients who test positive for the virus. 

While there is an upward trend in cases and positivity rates, Grannis points out that 6% of statewide ventilators are being used for COVID-19 patients right now, and 77% of statewide ventilators are available for use. Grannis also says COVID-19 patients are occupying 24% of Indiana’s hospital beds, and 31% of Indiana hospital beds are empty as of today.

“One of the things that we need to do is track the resources that we have available to know how to manage this,” Grannis said.

Grannis also points out that back in April, 20% of COVID-19 patients were hospitalized, while only 8% of COVID-19 patients were hospitalized in October. Also in April, Grannis says 28% of hospitalized COVID patients were seen in the emergency department. That number was down to 15% in October.

“So again, we’re seeing evidence that we know how to better treat this illness,” Grannis said.

Neither Duszynski nor Grannis are predicting whether state officials will impose any new restrictions. However, they both agree the rising case numbers should remind Hoosiers to take precautions against the virus.  

Most cases in U.S. Texas has surpassed California in recording the highest number of positive coronavirus tests in the U.S. so far, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

As the coronavirus pandemic surges across the nation, the data from Sunday — the most recent available — says that there have been 938,503 cases in Texas, the nation’s second-most populous state.

California, the most populous state, has had 938,119 cases, followed by Florida with 812,063.

The true number of infections is likely higher because many people haven’t been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected and not feel sick.

More than 29 million people live in Texas. The state’s cases per 100,000 population is 3,269.84. By comparison, California — home to more than 39 million people — has a rate of 2,371.56 cases per 100,000.

A summer surge of cases overwhelmed hospitals in Houston and along the hard-hit border with Mexico. But in the fall case numbers dipped, and Gov. Greg Abbott began relaxing some coronavirus restrictions, allowing restaurants and gyms to let more people inside. He also let county leaders decide if they wanted to reopen bars at 50% capacity.

But cases and hospitalizations are once again on the rise.

The Johns Hopkins data shows that Texas’ seven-day rolling average of the positivity rate has risen over the last two weeks from 7.12% to 10.72%. Nationwide, the positivity rate was 6.6%.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Texas rose from about 4,470 new cases per day to about 6,070.

Active cases were estimated at 105,658, the most since Aug. 26, and 63.5% more than when active cases bottomed out on Sept. 20. Almost 5,800 COVID-19 hospitalizations were reported in Texas Monday, 87.3% more than at the Sept. 20 low point.

Texas health officials have reported more than 18,000 deaths so far from COVID-19.

Germany’s plan. As Europe tries to break the surging second wave of coronavirus infections, Germany is counting on a new type of test to avoid closing nursing homes to visitors, a move that caused considerable anguish among residents and relatives in the spring.

So-called antigen tests, which look for a specific protein on the virus, were first launched months ago. They are cheap and fast, but experts said at the time they are also less accurate than the standard PCR test, which detects even the tiniest genetic trace of the virus.

Still, Germany — which has managed to contain the spread of the outbreak better than many of its neighbors — announced recently that it is bulk-buying millions of antigen tests each month.

“We have a new strategy,” Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters Monday. “We can now basically perform rapid tests on visitors to nursing and care homes.”

Nursing homes will receive up to 20 free monthly tests per resident. These can be used to test patients, staff and — crucially — visiting relatives, who might be unwitting carriers of COVID-19, posing a potentially devastating threat.

“Health insurers will cover the costs for a certain number of visitors each month,” Merkel said. “That’s huge progress in terms of protection.”

Germany has one of the world’s oldest populations. More than 24 million people are 60 or older and about 900,000 people live in nursing homes. A further 2.5 million younger people have serious disabilities.

That means almost 30% of Germany’s population of 83 million are particularly vulnerable to the virus, Merkel said.

“Almost everyone knows somebody they don’t want to infect,” she said.

Germany has reported about 550,000 coronavirus cases — less than half the number recorded in Britain, Spain and France. Germany’s confirmed virus death toll of 10,669 is also one-fourth of Britain’s.

NFL positive tests. Baltimore Ravens All-Pro cornerback Marlon Humphrey says he has the coronavirus, and several other NFL teams reported positive tests Monday, providing new concerns for a league trying to complete the season amid a pandemic.

The Green Bay Packers reported that a player tested positive for COVID-19, and Arizona coach Kliff Kingsbury confirmed that two Cardinals tested positive over the weekend.

In addition, the Browns conducted meetings remotely Monday after a player reported that he is experiencing “COVID-19-related” symptoms.

It was a difficult day for the league as it nears the halfway point of a season that’s already had its schedule altered by outbreaks of COVID-19.

In a post on Twitter, Humphrey wrote: “I got the Rona hopefully I’ll be back healthy soon.”

Humphrey missed practice last Wednesday with what the team described as an “illness,” but returned Thursday and played in Sunday’s 28-24 loss to Pittsburgh.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh ruled Humphrey out for Sunday’s game in Indianapolis, and said the team has stepped up efforts to monitor the players and keep them healthy.

“We’re in the intensive protocol the NFL puts in place,” Harbaugh said. “We prepared for this, we’ve had a plan in place, we plan to have a great week of preparation and we plan to be ready to play the game on Sunday.”

He said the team will hold virtual meetings but continue to practice on the field, beginning Wednesday.

The NFL administers daily testing, including game day and during bye weeks. Results of the tests generally come in overnight. Tests taken the day before the game determine if the player can play on game day.

On game day, they have their temperatures taken by contactless thermometers, are screened for loss of smell or taste and have other symptoms checked prior to entering the stadium, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said. Players and personnel also have to report any symptoms.

That explains why players can play on Sunday, then have a Sunday morning test come back positive on Monday.

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