Health experts ask Hoosiers to reconsider their New Year’s Eve plans after post-Christmas testing surge

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INDIANAPOLIS — On the first Monday after the Christmas holiday weekend, Hoosiers reported waiting in hour-long lines at testing sites across Central Indiana.

“We get all of those positive results,” said Shandy Dearth, director of the Center for Public Health Practice at IUPUI’s Fairbanks School of Public Health. “So the last few days we’ve had really large numbers sent in to us for us to follow up on those cases.”

Only after those Hoosiers go through testing does the job of contact tracers in Marion County really kick in. Dearth oversees a team of contact tracers with the Fairbanks School of Public Health, which has provided contact tracing for Marion County residents since the summer of 2020.

“I had a pep talk today with our team leads about checking in on their staff. I know a lot of people are frustrated and discouraged to see the numbers going up the way they are,” Dearth said.

Dearth said her team saw daily case loads exceed 700 positive cases per day several times in the days leading up to Christmas.

“That alarms me when we’re not even at the post-holiday surge,” said Dearth. “Those people were tested before Christmas and we had those kind of numbers…. A week or two from now it’s going to be much, much worse.”

Dearth is now encouraging Hoosiers to think twice about their New Years Eve plans. She said Hoosiers should not be going out into large crowds around people who you don’t know their vaccination status.

“It’s really best, again, to put off those big celebrations until our numbers go down. Because the community risk is just too high right now,” Dearth said.

According to Dearth, her team of contact tracers are roughly one-fourth the size compared to this time last year.

“We do have a smaller staff right now than what we had a year ago just from, you know, cuts to the budget and things like that,” said Dearth. “At this point, a lot of our tracers are handling anywhere between 20 and 30 cases a day. So that’s quite a load for one person to handle in this shift.”

The difference in resources this year compared to last means Marion County contact tracers are having to narrow their focus.

“Our goal from Dr. Caine is to keep the K -12 schools open. So we’re really working on making sure we contact as many of the kids and their families as possible,” said Dearth. “So we specifically look at cases who are 30 years of age or younger. We might actually start narrowing that down to 20 and younger.”

Dr. Brian Dixon, director of public health informatics at the Regenstrief Institute, said he anticipates separate waves after both Christmas and New Years.

“There’s definitely going to be a surge of hospitalizations that happen this week,” said Dr. Dixon. “Many people, if they feel sick over Christmas, they don’t want to go in [to get tested]. They want to either stay home or still go to those family events and not miss out on that time off work and then come a couple days, after Christmas, they’re still feeling bad and then they go into the hospital.”

Health experts recommend Hoosiers isolate as soon as they feel symptoms and get tested within 3-5 days.

“If you’re going somewhere with other humans around – you should assume you’re going to get exposed to COVID,” said Dearth. “Because we just see too much of it in the community right now.”

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