ELKHART — With COVID-19 deaths on a record pace and hospitals past capacity, Gov. Eric Holcomb announced new restrictions Wednesday, even as Elkhart County officials also talked about new restrictions.
In the first 10 days of November, 25 new COVID-19 deaths were reported in Elkhart County, putting it on a pace to be one of the deadliest months of the pandemic in the county.
October had the most COVID-19 deaths in the county of any month so far, at 36.
In the last 30 days, 50 Elkhart County residents have died from the virus. The death tally since March is 177.
About half the COVID-19 infections in Elkhart County since March were recorded after Indiana moved to Stage 5 on the Back on Track plan on Sept. 26. In the 45 days between Sept. 26 and Tuesday, 6,219 – or 48.5 percent – of the county’s total of 12,835 infections were recorded.
The high number of cases in a short period of time has resulted in a sharp increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations as well.
There are 88 COVID-19 inpatients at Elkhart General and 41 at Goshen Hospital, for a combined 129. As recently as early September, the total had been around 20.
Dr. Michelle Bache, vice president of medical affairs at Elkhart General, said the hospital is short on staff as well as equipment to treat the high number of patients. The hospital’s normal capacity is 144 inpatients at a time, and the number of COVID-19 patients has forced the hospital to go above capacity and to reschedule elective procedures.
“We are walking the hospital looking for any bed that we may have in the hospital that we could put a patient in,” Bache said.
She wants people to understand that while they may not be in the at-risk population for COVID-19, the higher number of cases and hospitalizations are having a negative effect on the community.
“It’s not just about COVID. It is about the limited resources that we have within the health care system to provide all necessary care. And when you have a situation like this that just so rapidly and aggressively consumes your resources, it’s going to affect everybody,” she said. “We won’t see a decrease in hospitalizations until we see a decrease in community cases.”
Restrictions coming back
The governor on Wednesday announced some restrictions will be reintroduced starting Nov. 15. Restrictions will be based on a county’s color code.
Holcomb said attendance at gatherings, except at places of worship, will be limited to 50 people in orange counties and 25 if in red. Attendance at school activities, including sporting events, will also be limited. In red counties, extracurricular and co-curricular events, including IHSAA sports, will be limited to participants, support personnel and parents and guardians.
Elkhart County stayed at the orange alert level Wednesday. The color codes go from blue to yellow, orange and red and are used to indicate the severity of a county’s outbreak.
LaGrange County moved to red with 376 weekly cases per 100,000 residents and a positive test rate of 20.41%.
Elkhart County’s numbers were 947 weekly cases per 100,000 residents and a positive test rate of 14.69 percent. Elkhart County’s weekly cases per 100,000 residents appeared to be the highest in the sate.
Elkhart County could be moved to red next week, as the only thing keeping the county orange was that the seven-day average positivity rate for all tests stayed 0.31 percentage points below 15 percent, the number the county would need to reach to be considered red. Elkhart County Health Department spokesperson Melanie Sizemore said the department expects the county to be red next week.
Sizemore, before Holcomb’s announcement, said Elkhart County Health Officer Dr. Lydia Mertz, the Elkhart County Board of Commissioners, and the county’s mayors are talking about reintroducing some restrictions. Sizemore said Mertz has previously suggested that possible future restrictions could cover capacities of restaurants and bars.
In Goshen, Mayor Jeremy Stutsman issued a new executive order limiting access to public buildings. He cited an “alarming” increase in the seven-day moving average of daily positive cases, from 50 on Oct. 30 to 262 on Nov. 7.
All city buildings will be closed to the public beginning Thursday with the exception of the Utility Business Office and the Police and Courts Building, which will remain open for court hearings and trials.
Buildings staffed or operated by the Parks & Recreation Department will be open for programming and for scheduled rentals pursuant to guidelines development by the Parks Department and approved by the mayor.
In addition, members of the public may enter city buildings for meetings scheduled with city employees, and the City Council chambers will remain open for public meetings and hearings. Facial coverings will be required.
In the days since this week’s alert level was determined, the positivity rate has increased to 15.8 percent. That is a new record, breaking the previous record of 15.4 percent that was set on April 14. The seven-day average positivity rate when counting individuals, not tests, is 30.7 percent, which is also a new record.
More tests than ever are being conducted in Elkhart County, with the most recent seven-day average reaching 561 individuals tested per day, which is 100 more per day than at the top of the first wave in June. The number of tests per individual has gone up as well.
Indianapolis-based Regenstrief Institute estimates that 7,678 of the 12,835 Elkhart County residents infected with COVID-19 have recovered. Of the 177 residents who have died, 94.3 percent were 60 or older.
Statewide, a record number of 5,156 new cases were reported Wednesday, taking the state’s total to 224,374. Thirty-one new deaths were reported, moving Indiana’s COVID-19 death tally to 4,512.