ELKHART — The number of COVID-19 inpatients at Elkhart County hospitals keeps climbing. As of Monday, there were 52 patients at Elkhart General and 26 at Goshen Hospital, almost four times as many as two months ago.
Elkhart General’s 52 COVID-19 patients is a record, according to Dr. Michelle Bache, vice president of medical affairs at Elkhart General. Since hospitalizations tend to lag compared to cases – and cases keep increasing – there is reason to believe the number of COVID-19 patients will keep growing.
“Every day, we’re just setting a new record,” Bache said.
When the hospital had 29 COVID-19 patients on Oct. 9, Bache said they were already above capacity. Since then, the hospital opened a new overflow unit for another 15 COVID-19 patients. That has helped, she said, but the hospital has still needed to aggressively recruit travel nurses, who are in high demand.
As the hospital’s normal capacity is 144 beds, the 52 coronavirus patients take up more than a third of that capacity. There are 182 patients at the hospital, despite the hospital rescheduling elective procedures. Some non-coronavirus patients have been moved to the childbirth unit, Bache said. Staff members are working overtime.
“We’re being creative and really just asking our staff to do more and more to respond to the need,” Bache said. “But the staff is getting tired. They’re working a lot of hours, and you can only do that for so long. And the numbers are still going up.”
The hospital might be able to care for more COVID-19 patients even if the number keeps growing at the current rate, Bache said. But it would have serious consequences.
“That would necessitate really shutting down a lot of other services that we offer. If we were to get to a number of 75 or 100, we would basically have to stop doing any non-emergent surgery. We would have to pull staff from the operating room to come take care of the COVID patients,” she said.
Goshen sets death record
Goshen Hospital reported not only a higher number of COVID-19 patients, but particularly those requiring ventilators. The hospital has also seen a recent increase in the number of deaths, with six patients dying from COVID-19 in the last week. The COVID-19 death tally at the hospital is now at 40, and six deaths in a week is the highest number to date.
Dr. Dan Nafziger, Goshen Hospital’s chief medical officer and infectious decease expert, is asking community members to do what they can to limit the spread of the disease.
“With the colder weather on the way, we continue to worry that more people gathered indoors will increase the spread of COVID-19,” Nafziger said. “By now all the precautions may be like second nature to some of us – and to others, they may be a constant struggle. But please know, your efforts do make a difference – wearing a mask, handwashing and physically distancing.”
Most homes are not large enough to entertain more than a few people indoors, he said, so people should avoid having indoor gatherings. Staying home if you are not feeling well is also critically important this cold and flu season, according to Nafziger.
He acknowledged that staying at home and not socializing can be difficult and even harmful, especially when the weather does not make it easy to spend time outdoors.
“Many people are worried about how they will deal with feeling more isolated during the winter. Being outside can be critical to our emotional health. Pay attention to how you’re feeling and talk to your provider if you begin to feel depressed. And, reach out to your friends and family who may need your phone call, text or email to remind them you care. We’re still in the middle of this pandemic, but we’re not alone,” he said.
By the numbers
Another 117 COVID-19 cases in Elkhart County residents were reported Monday, making the total 9,271. In the last 30 days, 2,742 cases have been recorded in the county. That is 29.6 percent of all cases since March. The seven-day average is 130 cases per day.
The number of people getting tested in the county also keeps climbing, with the seven-day average surpassing 400 a day for the first time since July. The average was at 413 as of Oct. 19, which is the latest date with non-preliminary data.
The increase in tests does not account for the increase in positive cases, as the positive test rate is also climbing, meaning that a higher percentage of people being tested is positive.
Put another way: Since Sept. 10, the recent low-water mark in cases, the number of tests performed each day has almost doubled, from 224 to 413. In the same period, the number of new infections per day has more than quadrupled, from 28 to 130.
On Oct. 19, the unique individual test rate seven-day average was 20.7 percent. A few days earlier, on Oct. 15, the rate matched the all-time high, from April 14, of 22.3 percent. Before the surge in September and October, the rate had mostly been at around 11 percent since late July.
For all tests, not individuals, the positivity rate has climbed to a seven-day average of 11.1 percent. Elkhart County Health Department officials last week said they expected Elkhart to move from orange alert level to red if the positive test rate for all tests to climbs to 15 percent.
Indiana State Department of Health reported one new COVID-19 death in Elkhart County on Monday, making the county’s total 138. In the last 30 days, 27 county residents have died. In July, the month when the highest number of Elkhart County residents died of COVID-19, there were 31 deaths in 31 days.