ELKHART — The local coronavirus outbreak is as mild as it has been in more than a year, with a seven-day average of 11 new infections per day; the last time Elkhart County had such a low average was on May 4, 2020.
The seven-day average has been declining since hitting its highest point of the spring, at 65, on May 3. Elkhart County’s positive test rate, which runs a week behind, has also been declining. On June 2, which was reported this week, the seven-day average dropped below 5 percent for the first time since February. The latest available average is 3.8 percent, which is the lowest since March 2020.
Local COVID-19 hospitalizations are also at one of the lowest points during the pandemic, with nine COVID-19 inpatients at Elkhart General Hospital and eight at Goshen Hospital. That could result in changes to the setup at Elkhart General, which, for comparison, had 40 COVID-19 inpatients as recently as May 3 and peaked at 96 in mid-November.
“We’re looking at kind of consolidating the COVID care and maybe even looking towards being able to close down our COVID unit if the numbers continue to go down,” said Vice President of Medical Affairs Dr. Michelle Bache.
If that decision is made, COVID-19 patients will still be cared for in negative pressure rooms, but the hospital will no longer have to dedicate an entire unit to treating those patients, she said.
Despite the positive trends, residents are still dying from COVID-19. Seventeen county residents died from COVID-19 last month, according to the Indiana State Department of Health. While that is more than in March and April, it is one of the lowest numbers of COVID-19 deaths for a month during the pandemic. A total of 458 county residents have died from COVID-19 since March 2020, according to ISDH.
Elkhart County’s numbers follow the trend of the state as a whole, where the number of cases and deaths have generally been declining since COVID-19 vaccines became available to the public. As of Thursday, 2.65 million Hoosiers and 61,358 Elkhart County residents were fully vaccinated. That translates to 45.6 percent and 36.2 percent, respectively.
But the number of doses administered per day has dropped recently. The statewide seven-day average peaked on April 4 with 56,283 doses and has since fallen to 16,104. Elkhart’s average peaked on April 1 with 1,208 doses and fell slightly after that, reaching a fairly stable level of about 900 doses per day, which it held until May 23, when the average began dropping drastically, reaching a low of 341 doses per day on June 3. It has since increased to 491.
Bache said Elkhart General’s vaccine clinic will close at the end of June and that part of the vaccination effort will be moved to private practices.
“There are people out there who really would prefer to get it at their doctor’s office because they trust their physician,” she said. “Hopefully, that will help.”
According to Bache, part of the explanation for the recent drop in the number of daily doses administered might well be that healthy people are feeling less of an urgency to get vaccinated because they themselves are unlikely to suffer serious consequences from COVID-19, because they may have already had the disease and are temporarily immune, or because the outbreak has gotten less severe. But those people should still consider getting vaccinated, Bache said.
“There are still a lot of variants that are circling, and it’s still not clear how long the immunity from infection from COVID lasts. We’re pretty comfortable saying it can last 90 days,” she said.
And while vaccines are effective against current coronavirus variants, the longer the virus is allowed to spread among unvaccinated individuals, the more likely it becomes that a variant develops that is not as hindered by current vaccines.
“As soon as a variant starts spreading, and if there’s a large enough portion of the population that doesn’t have immunity to that variant, it can take off very quickly,” she said.
About two-thirds of Indiana counties received a blue coronavirus score this week, indicating a light outbreak. Elkhart County was among the remaining counties that received a yellow score, which is the second-least severe of four possible scores. If the seven-day averages for cases and the positive test rate remain where they are now, the county will receive a blue score next week.