Monroe County health officials are hesitantly hopeful the COVID-19 surge caused by the omicron variant will decline in the coming weeks.
The number of COVID-19 cases in the county this week have generally been lower than previous weeks in January, according to the state's COVID-19 dashboard. On Thursday the dashboard showed 490 newly reported Monroe County cases, but that daily number likely included cases that were delayed in processing.
The county’s weekly cases per 100,000 dropped slightly this week to 1,278 on Wednesday, but the seven-day all tests positivity rate edged upward to 22.7%. Both are higher than the figures were two weeks earlier.
“At the moment, we’re kind of watching this potential plateau … and hoping that’s a sign of better things to come,” Monroe County health administrator Penny Caudill said during Friday’s COVID news conference by community leaders.
Over the course of the pandemic, 249 Monroe County residents have died while infected with the virus as of Friday's state dashboard report. That's up from 238 on Jan. 12 (11 new death reports over 16 days). The county marked 200 COVID deaths on Oct. 22, 2021.
Indiana University’s Bloomington campus reported 806 cases during the reporting week that ended Wednesday, with 710 cases occurring in students. This is higher than the previous week but on par with that of the rest of the community and the state, IU’s COVID Response Unit co-chairman Kirk White said.
“We still believe that with our high vaccination rates, we’re going to be able to keep things on an even keel,” he said.
There has, however, been a significant increase in COVID-19 cases among city employees over the past month, Mayor John Hamilton said. The city reported 30 cases this past week and 102 total cases throughout January. This equates to about one in every eight employees testing positive this month, Hamilton said.
“It’s kind of a striking number,” he said.
Despite a potential plateau in cases, hospitals are still overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients. The majority of of those hospitalized with COVID-19 are unvaccinated, IU Health South Central Region President Brian Shockney said.
This week, the new IU Health Bloomington Hospital saw its highest number of patients so far in the expanded emergency department, Shockney said.
The most effective way to avoid hospitalization due to COVID-19 is getting vaccinated and staying up to date on boosters, he said.
“As our state data reports, only about half of Hoosiers that are eligible to get their booster have done so,” he said, “which could also be a contributing factor to those hospitalized.”
Shockney urged those with mild COVID-19 symptoms to visit local urgent care centers to avoid clogging the ER.
Additionally, he urged county residents to be continually cautious regardless of a potential downward trend in cases.
“Even if this decrease is sustained for the next several weeks, the virus is still circulating and just as potent as it was on the climb up to these record pandemic levels,” he said.
Free N95 masks and tests
Those across the state who ordered free at-home COVID-19 antigen tests through the federal government are beginning to receive them.
Additionally, some local pharmacies and grocery stores should soon be able to distribute three free N95 masks per person as part of the federal mask distribution program. They can be picked up at various local locations as supplies arrive.
Some have shown concern that the at-home tests being delivered to residents may show inaccurate results if left out in the cold. Antigen tests exposed to temperatures below 36 degrees Fahrenheit for extended periods of time can cause inaccuracies, according to a study from the National Institutes of Health. But in general, exposure to cold temperatures for just a few hours is OK, the study said.
IU Chief Health Officer Dr. Aaron Carroll said people shouldn’t worry about it too much, as long as the tests return to room temperature before being used.
Apply for free at-home testing kits at covidtests.gov.
Contact Herald-Times reporter Christine Stephenson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on The Herald-Times: Bloomington officials see potential decline in COVID-19 omicron surge