ELKHART — Seven more Elkhart County residents were reported dead from COVID-19 on Tuesday, taking the virus’ death tally for November to 42, surpassing October’s 36, which had been the worst so far.
The seven new deaths occurred on Nov. 14, 15 and 16, according to the Indiana State Department of Health. The average number of deaths per day over the last 30 days is 2.1, or double that of July and early August, which was the deadliest period in the first wave. Since March, there have been 194 COVID-19 deaths among Elkhart County residents.
“We’re really in a dire situation here in Elkhart County,” Elkhart County Health Officer Dr. Lydia Mertz said. “This is a severe problem and I don’t know how to stress that. We keep saying the same things. The cure for the deaths is everybody wearing masks and distancing and handwashing.”
Elkhart County hospitals had a total of 130 COVID-19 inpatients Tuesday, with 43 at Goshen Hospital and 87 at Elkhart General. Both hospitals are cutting elective procedures to ensure they can take care of the high number of COVID-19 patients, and Elkhart General had to turn away ambulances for six hours last week.
“Our ICU is over capacity today. We’re at the highest census that we have been for ICU at any point in this crisis,” said Dr. Michelle Bache, vice president of Medical Affairs at Elkhart General.
As the number of patients sick enough to be hospitalized has increased over the last two months, the number of patients who are very sick has also increased recently, according to Bache. Elkhart General has requested more ventilators from FEMA to help deal with the change.
The number of deaths is also significantly growing. As of Nov. 16, there had been 23 COVID-19 deaths at Elkhart General. The death tally in October was 19, and the tally from March through September was 29.
“Our mortality rate, meaning the percentage of patients that are in the hospital that die, has been pretty consistent around 9-10 percent. For every 10 patients that we admit, one will not live to be discharged,” Bache said
Though hospitals have become better at helping COVID-19 patients, she said, that has a bigger effect on being able to release people sooner, but it does not have a significant impact on mortality.
“As our resources get stretched and our staffing resources become more strained, it is harder to deliver the intensive care that these people need, and that may, at some point, also have an effect on our mortality,” Bache said.
Another 260 infections were reported in Elkhart County on Tuesday. The seven-day average is 323 new cases per day, which is a new high. In the last 30 days, 6,736 new cases have been reported, about 45 percent of all cases in the county since March. Indianapolis-based Regenstrief Institute estimates that 8,411 of the 14,787 Elkhart County residents infected with COVID-19 have recovered.
More people than ever are being tested in Elkhart County, as the seven-day average has reached 658 individuals tested per day. The average reached a high of 462 in the first wave. The increase in testing does not explain the surge in cases, as daily testing has increased by 42 percent since the worst part of the first wave, while daily cases have increased by 314 percent.
This is also shown by the all-time high positive test rates in Elkhart County. The seven-day average positive test rate for individuals has reached 35.4 percent, and the seven-day average for all tests has reached 18.1 percent. The only reason Elkhart County has not yet moved from the state’s orange alert level to red, which is the most serious, is that the positivity rate for all tests had yet to surpass 15 percent until this week, health officials said. The new alert levels are announced Wednesday, and Elkhart County will be red, according to Mertz.
Given Gov. Eric Holcomb’s new executive order that went into effect Sunday, Nov. 15, events and social gatherings in orange counties are limited to 50 people. In red counties, the limit is 25.
Mertz will release a public health order with additional restrictions for Elkhart County on Wednesday, she said. It will take effect Thursday. The order will include specific requirements for businesses, restaurants, bars and entertainment venues, school-sponsored events, and other events and gatherings, and the county has emphasized that it can use fines and penalties to enforce the order.
“Most people want to do the right thing, but there’s a few who just want to do whatever they want, and with our rate so high, we just need to get everybody on the same page,” Mertz said. “The situation in Elkhart County is really serious.”
An earlier version of this article erroneously stated that Elkhart County had had 41, not 42, COVID-19 deaths as of Nov. 16.