While You Were Sleeping: Coronavirus updates for October 29

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

Here’s a look:

Fauci on vaccine. The nation’s top infectious disease doctor warned Wednesday that the United States is “not in a good place” as winter looms and says he thinks a vaccine won’t be available in the U.S. until at least January.

Dr. Anthony Fauci said during an interview with the Journal of the American Medical Association that current vaccine trials are “event based,” with infections being the events. He said he doesn’t think companies will have data from the necessary number of events until December.

After the minimum number of events are compiled can a company submit the study to the Data and Safety Monitoring Board, which would have to examine the findings to determine if the company can move forward. Only then, Fauci said, can companies start to apply for an emergency use authorization from the FDA for the vaccine.

“Could be January, could be later,” Fauci said.

Fauci said the country is already lagging behind when it comes to the work done over the summer to fight back the virus.

“We should have been way down in baseline and daily cases and we’re not,” Fauci said.

The number of coronavirus cases is surging in the United States, with the case count rising in nearly every state. Deaths and hospitalizations due to COVID-19 are also climbing.

Vaccine in Indiana. Indiana State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box said the COVID-19 vaccine could arrive in Indiana as early as mid-November.

Box made the comments during Wednesday’s weekly COVID-19 briefing.

It’s unclear how many doses would be sent to central Indiana. There are two vaccine candidates on the verge of approval: one from Pfizer and another from Moderna.

The Pfizer vaccine appears to be on track for approval in November, with Indiana possibly receiving doses by mid-to-late November. Moderna’s vaccine could be available in December. Both need FDA approval.

Box said the vaccine would likely go first to healthcare workers, first responders, vulnerable populations and nursing home staff.

Higher-risk counties. The Indiana State Department of Health increased the number of counties designated as higher-risk locations for coronavirus spread as the state continues to record sharp increases in hospitalizations and new infections.

Fifty-three of Indiana’s 92 counties were placed in orange or red levels under the agency’s color-coded weekly tracking map update, compared to 40 counties that were at those levels last week.

While one less county is listed under the most severe level compared to last week, more than half of the counties across the state are designated as higher-risk — the most since the state implemented the rating system in September.

Last week’s map (left) and this week’s map (right)

“We’re seeing COVID-19 spread in virtually every county,” Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb said during a news conference Wednesday. “Our hospitals are under a tremendous amount of pressure.”

More than 100 people a day are being admitted to Indiana hospitals with COVID-19 symptoms, said Dr. Kristina Box, Indiana’s health commissioner. Almost 70% of those hospitalized with the coronavirus in Indiana are age 60 or older, she continued, lending to a new statewide effort focused on protecting venerable populations in long-term care settings, like nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

Nursing home help. The state of Indiana is weeks away from rolling out a new program to help nursing homes amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Indiana University Fairbanks School of Public Health at IUPUI, Indiana University School of Medicine and the Regenstrief Institute teamed up to provide what’s being called Project ECHO.

Project ECHO allows nursing homes the opportunity to participate in weekly 90 minute calls to help them address operational issues related to COVID-19 and prevent future outbreaks.

“The focus and intent of ECHO – and this is absolutely true for the nursing home ECHO program being launched – is for peers to learn from each other,” said Dr. Kathleen Unroe, a scientist with Regenstrief Institute.

Dr. Unroe said nursing homes who wish to participate will be divided into groups of no more than thirty. She adds while the call will begin with experts’ presentations, the conversation is meant to develop “case-based learning.”

“The hope is that much of the discussion will be driven by these cases that the nursing homes themselves bring forward,” Dr. Unroe said.

“The collaboration across companies and across peer groups is going to be something that we have not been able to stop and breathe to do since March,” said President of the Indiana Healthcare Association, Zach Cattell.

Cattell said the opportunity to be mentored and led by expert facilitators will be helpful.

“Within those discussions, solutions that are readily implementable are developed and shared among the entire group,” said Cattell. “[Topics] could be around best practices to efficiently administer testing — which we’ve been doing for some time — but that collaborative sharing of information is really the goal so that all can improve together.”

The program will begin with a 16-week curriculum but assistance will be available year-round. Dr. Unroe said daily topics could include PPE storage and distribution, on-site testing, staffing, and best practices for infection control.

Game canceled. The Big Ten will have its first cancellation of the young football season.

The Wisconsin Badgers football team will pause all team-related activities for at least a week and Saturday’s game against Nebraska will not be played.

The announcement is in response to an elevated number of COVID-19 cases within the Badgers’ program.

On Tuesday, multiple reports indicated that starting quarterback Graham Mertz’s second coronavirus test had come back positive. This comes after news that back-up quarterback Chase Wolf also tested positive.

According to a release, the joint decision to pause football activities and cancel Saturday’s game was made by Director of Athletics Barry Alvarez and UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank in consultation with the Big Ten Conference.

The Nebraska game will not be rescheduled.

“We have said from the beginning that the health and safety of our student-athletes, coaches and staff members come first,” Alvarez says. “Over the past several days we have seen a rising number of student-athletes and staff contract the virus. The responsible thing for us to do is to pause football-related activities for at least seven days.”

“We thank and appreciate our athletic trainers, doctors, and public health staff who are supporting the health and safety of our student-athletes and program,” says Blank.

As of Wednesday morning, officials say 12 people within the Wisconsin football program had tested positive for COVID-19 within the past five days.

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