New effort to help long-term care facilities battle virus spread announced by Gov. Holcomb

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INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb and Indiana State Department of Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Lindsay Weaver announced a plan to assist the surge of cases in the state’s long-term care facilities (LTCs).

The governor said despite the state’s best efforts, deaths and cases continue to mount at these facilities. Right now, more than 55 percent of deaths are attributed to these facilities. According to the Indiana Health Care Association, less than 4 percent of new COVID-19 cases in the last 30 days are from these centers.

“The pandemic has taken a real toll on the residents and the staff and both of their families. We need to initiate an even more target effort to support and protect residents where they are,” said Governor Holcomb.

The state will be sending the Indiana National Guard to all LTCs to help with testing, reporting test results, screening employees and simple infection control practices so staff members can focus on caring for the residents. The goal is to begin November 1st in facilities experiencing positive cases before deploying to the rest of the state.

Indiana will also hire clinical staff from the healthcare reserve workforce to supplement long-term care resources. During infection control surveys in October, state officials found facilities needed help with staffing.

“All the additional measures that must be in place to protect residents from COVID does require extra time from our staff,” said Dr. Weaver. “Staff members have to isolate or quarantine because of community exposures.”

The additional personal protective equipment (PPE) along with testing and tracing assistance to LTCs will continue as in the past, but now with more focus.

Dr. Weaver said 11 strike teams have currently been deployed to nursing homes.

According to Dr. Weaver, LTCs are receiving the state’s largest PPE distribution in its history — 2 million N95 masks, 400,000 face shields and 680,000 gowns.

“You can average about 55 or so direct caregivers in each of those buildings so that is about 24 gowns per caregiver. Depending on the unit you are on, if you are changing that gown after every resident encounter, that is about 2 days worth of gowns,” said Zach Cattell, president of Indiana Health Care Association. “We would absolutely take it. We thank the governor and his team for putting that together but we are going to need a lot more over time.”

The state is now requiring additional CMS infection control training for all LTC employees. A new pilot program will allow an immediate discharge from a hospital to the patient’s home to reduce admissions to nursing homes.

Governor Holcomb reported that 75% of all positive cases of death are with individuals who are 70 years old or older. Deaths at LTCs account for 58% of all the coronavirus deaths in the state.

“This virus is unforgiving to the elderly and those with compromised health conditions,” said Cattell. “So we have to continue to have support like what Governor Holcomb announced today and we have to have moral support too.”

Throughout Indiana, health officials have continued to sound the alarm over the state’s increasing COVID-19 cases, positivity rate and hospitalization numbers.

“Our numbers continue to rise on two main fronts, our positivity rate and hospitalizations,” said Holcomb as he continued to ask Hoosiers to “do what we know works,” like wearing masks and social distancing.

Dr. Weaver added, “This past week has seen the highest case numbers Indiana has seen since the pandemic.”

She also expressed gratitude to exhausted frontline healthcare workers who are “exhausted” and “have been running a marathon at sprint pace for eight months.” 

As far as a vaccine, Dr. Weaver reported that the latest officials have heard it is still months away. Should one become available, the limited supplies will first be distributed to healthcare workers and those at the greatest risk.

As reported last week, the number of people refusing to interview with contact tracers has increased, Dr. Weaver again said Wednesday. She stressed again that all Hoosiers need to wear a mask, social distance and to please participate in contact tracing.

Also last week, Indiana State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box reported that she and two of her family members tested positive for coronavirus.

Dr. Box joined the briefing remotely and said she and her family are “doing great” and that she was mildly symptomatic but is “turning the corner on that.”

In response to claims that her infection means masks don’t work, Dr. Box stressed that the only way she got infected was when she let her guard down in the social bubble of her immediate family.

Dr. Box said that her consistent wearing of masks at work and taking precautions is why other state officials did not become infected as well.

Holcomb, Dr. Weaver and other officials that were in close contact with Dr. Box were tested and received negative results on Thursday.

Governor Holcomb also announced that, in the interest of safety, Halloween will not be hosted at the governor’s residence this year. Holcomb expressed disappointment saying, “I already had my costume planned out.”

Accumulated candy for the planned event will be donated to a worthy cause, the governor said.

Last week, Holcomb extended Indiana’s mask mandate and announced the state will stay in Stage 5 of its reopening plan through at least November. 14.

Stage 5 lifted capacity restrictions for social gatherings and meetings. Events of more than 500 people are required to submit a plan to your county health department.

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