Indiana hospitals, test sites prep for post-Thanksgiving coronavirus surge

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INDIANAPOLIS — Central Indiana hospitals and COVID-19 test sites are bracing for a surge in cases after travel and gatherings for Thanksgiving.

Some health officials believe an uptick is nearly certain.

COVID-19 hospitalizations are at an all-time high in the Hoosier state. Since November 1, the numbers have increased by more than 90%. The state recorded more than 3,400 COVID-19 patients in Indiana hospitals on Monday, the highest hospitalization record since the start of the pandemic.

Now hospitals like Eskenazi Health are preparing for an influx of patients a few weeks after Thanksgiving.

“We are anticipating it,” said Dr. Graham Carlos, chief of internal medicine at Eskenazi Health. “There is not so much of a worry if it is going to come. We really believe based on what we have learned about this virus that in a two to three week period, we will start to see even more of a rise above where we already are in terms of hospitalizations for critical care.”

To increase capacity, Eskenazi Health is creating more rooms that can function as full ICU rooms. That means they can handle a ventilator and are staffed by an ICU nurse. Dr. Carlos also said they are looking into December and January to set schedules for staff so the hospital is prepared for an uptick in cases in the coming weeks.

“Most of all the hospital doctors in ICUs that I know and that I have spoken with say they are running two and three times what they normally would to kick off December in a given year,” said Dr. Carlos.

Eskenazi Health is also training nurses who are ready and willing to learn so they can help address basic needs for ICU patients.

This time of year is usually the busiest for hospitals. On top of an already busy season, doctors now expect an increase from COVID-19 cases.

“We really have not started to see all of the other viruses we typically see in December and January,” added Dr. Carlos.

It is not just hospitals that will be busy. Testing sites will also be in high demand. Christian Walker, public health preparedness coordinator of the Hamilton County Health Department, believes they will anticipate an influx of people requiring tests following the holiday weekend.

In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, the county says there were a record number of daily COVID-19 tests administered. Hamilton County recently increased capacity for testing, and they are also prepared to extend hours.

A testing site at Ivy Tech Noblesville, sponsored through the Indiana State Department of Health, also put on weekend hours. There are now 10 COVID-19 testing sites in Hamilton County.

“Hopefully it creates more access for folks to get tested if they do need it,” said Walker.

Walker worries about the strain on testing labs as more people get tested. He said he is seeing turnaround times up to seven days sometimes.

Aria Diagnostics, an Indianapolis based reference laboratory, has doubled its client services team, extended lab operating hours and increased drive-thru testing hours in the past month. The company also leased 4,500 square feet of new space to meet demand.

Aria Diagnostics even launched a saliva PCR test this month to offer another option to those who wish to get tested.

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