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Indiana State Health Commissioner Tests Positive For COVID-19

Indiana State Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Kris Box has tested positive for COVID-19.

Box made the announcement during Gov. Eric Holcomb’s coronavirus press briefing Wednesday. Box’s daughter and grandson also tested positive for the disease. While her family members are displaying mild symptoms, Box said she is not symptomatic.

Holcomb and other state government officials will get tested later Wednesday, and hope to have results by morning or midday Thursday.

During her brief comments via phone, Box said Indiana’s containment of coronavirus spread is not going well.

“Our numbers are not good,” she said. “They’re very concerning, and it’s especially concerning to me to see what’s happening in our hospitals in several areas around the state. Please be careful, please be responsible.”

Indiana entered Stage 5 of its reopening plan Sep. 26. Bars, restaurants, gyms and other indoor venues were allowed to reopen at full capacity.

But the mask mandate stayed in place. Rather than letting it expire this weekend, Holcomb again extended the mask mandate to Nov. 14, but made no other adjustments to Indiana’s reopening status.

“We can only control what we can control,” Holcomb said. “And in my mind, wearing a mask is a layup.”

In the two weeks since many coronavirus restrictions were lifted as part of Stage 5, Indiana has seen a surge in cases. The state has had eight straight days with more than 1,000 new cases, including a record 1,937 last Friday.

Positivity rates in that time frame have increased from under 4% to 5.3%. That figure doesn’t account for the surge seen in recent days, and will likely change again, ISDH chief medical officer Lindsay Weaver said.

Hospitalizations are also on the rise. As of Tuesday, 1,357 Hoosiers were hospitalized with COVID-19 or symptoms of the disease – the highest figure seen since May 13.

Just under 32% of ICU beds and about 78% of ventilators in the state are available, and most are being used by patients without COVID-19. But COVID-19 patients needing specialized care are increasing, and Weaver said some hospitals are experiencing shortages.

“Hospitals in district 2, 6 and 10 are experiencing critical ICU bed shortages along with personnel shortages,” she said. “This is especially concerning, because we have not begun to see the typical increase in ICU bed usage from influenza.”

Holcomb said recent cases are “extremely localized occurrences,” and that the state is proving “folks are acting responsibly in Stage 5.” He attributed spreads to parties and weddings, not large public gatherings.

“It’s these events that have nothing to do with a 500-capacity limit,” Holcomb said. “Tracing is proving that. We are proving that you can go to a Colts game, or a soccer game, or school, or go shopping, and you can do it safely. The numbers have everything to do with how many of us are, and aren’t, letting our guard down, even at smaller and medium-sized events where safety protocols are not put into place, practiced or reinforced.”

Holcomb does not believe statewide approaches to limit spread are effective, and instead wants to focus on responses at the local level.

“It’s our behaviors and actions that need to be addressed, and they have to be addressed together,” Holcomb said. “The shutting down approach is missing the point.”

The state uses a color-coded map that monitors spread at the county level. Blue means minimal community spread, yellow means moderate, orange means medium to high, and red means very high. Weaver said last week 39 counties were blue, eight were orange and one was red. This week, 24 are blue, 21 are orange and one is red.

Moving forward, the state is asking counties to act accordingly with their color code. Yellow counties are asked to consider restrictions on gathering sizes and targeted testing. Orange counties should restrict social gatherings, employers should restrict common areas and limitations should be implemented for school activities.

Once a county enters the red zone, ISDH may take action that could include restricting sizes of social gatherings, events, business capacities and visitations at communal living facilities.

John, News Editor for LPM, is a corps member with Report For America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Email John at jboyle@lpm.org.