Testing sites at their limits as COVID cases continue to rise in Monroe County

·4 min read
An IU Health graphic depicts a sharp increase in admissions to their hospitals across the state due to COVID-19 between Oct. 21, 2021, and Jan. 13.
An IU Health graphic depicts a sharp increase in admissions to their hospitals across the state due to COVID-19 between Oct. 21, 2021, and Jan. 13.

Testing sites are overwhelmed in Monroe County as coronavirus cases continue to be reported at unprecedented levels, while IU Health hospital patient counts across the region are still at worrying levels.

The county’s daily number of new cases was at 302 on the state's COVID-19 dashboard Friday, while the two-week metrics chart showed the county's weekly number of cases per 100,000 residents had climbed to 1,081 Wednesday for the week that ended on Jan. 9.

“With this amount of transmission, testing sites are understandably overwhelmed,” Monroe County health administrator Penny Caudill said during Friday’s news conference by community leaders. “Turnaround time is increasing for those test results. Again, patience is desperately needed, even though it is a very frustrating time.”

Testing: What you need to know about COVID testing sites and vaccinations in Monroe County

An IU Health graphic shows a snapshot of overall COVID-19 hospitalizations, intensive care unit patients and ventilator patients in the South Central Region on Friday, broken down by vaccination status.
An IU Health graphic shows a snapshot of overall COVID-19 hospitalizations, intensive care unit patients and ventilator patients in the South Central Region on Friday, broken down by vaccination status.

Caudill said the Indiana Department of Health’s Gravity Diagnostics testing site is struggling with issues related to the sheer volume of people seeking tests. The site was forced to close early Thursday due to staffing issues.

According to Caudill, the county health department has continued to request mobile units from the state to provide additional testing capacity and awaits word of any possible help from that source.

With three new deaths of Monroe County residents who were suffering from COVID added to the dashboard Friday, the county's total death count over the course of the pandemic was at 241, up five from a week earlier.

IU Health hospitals and workers remain under great strain. “Our number of overall cases in the greater community is the highest we've seen for the pandemic to date,” IU Health South Central Region President Brian Shockney said Friday. “Yet we are fortunate to see a slight decline here in the South Central Region in our impatient numbers this last week.”

“Across the IU Health system, we are experiencing the largest COVID-19 inpatient census that we've seen since the beginning of the pandemic with an alarming increase of new admissions," he said. "Nearly two years into this pandemic, IU Health as a system is on track to experience a record amount of COVID-19 inpatient deaths this month.”

An IU Health data sheet shows information about the state of its South Central Region hospitals as of Jan. 13.
An IU Health data sheet shows information about the state of its South Central Region hospitals as of Jan. 13.

Shockney expressed concern about the number of IU Health workers in quarantine, with nearly 100 team members quarantining Friday in the system's South Central Region alone.

“So this large number of team members who are unable to work makes it even more challenging for us to care for the record number of patients,” Shockney said. “We are very thankful to our support team members who are picking up extra shifts, many working in areas they typically have never worked to help staffing levels and care for our patients and facilities.”

Shockney urged community members to do right by beleaguered health care workers by doing what they can to avoid contracting the disease and possibly spreading it: getting vaccinated and boosted, wearing masks and washing hands. Other important steps include social distancing and quarantining if sick.

This week the city of Bloomington reported 20 employees with positive cases — its highest one-week total during the pandemic — bringing the January total to 34. Mayor John Hamilton said a city team meets regularly to identify risks and possible disruptions to services, and efforts are underway to make sure there are enough people to maintain transportation services and road safety.

While he said he could not reveal the share of vaccinated workers in individual departments like fire, police and transit for privacy reasons, Hamilton said the various city departments range from roughly 50% vaccinated to 100%.

Health department hire: Monroe County Health Department to hire school liaison to assist with COVID-19 cases

Indiana University Chief Health Officer Dr. Aaron Carroll echoed the severity of the situation in Monroe County and around the state. Monroe is among 81 Indiana counties in the red, or most serious, COVID-19 advisory level, with the other 11 in orange.

“This is a surge,” Carroll said. “This is about as bad as we've seen it in terms of numbers. I'd say that we're experiencing a similar situation at IU, where the numbers are higher than we have seen before.”

The Bloomington campus recorded 544 cases during the reporting week that ended Wednesday, with 437 cases occurring in students. The previous week the total number of cases on the Bloomington campus was around 260, according to IU Bloomington COVID Response Unit Kirk White.

While cases are high at IU, both Carroll and White thought numbers stayed below expectations. “You can see it's doubled, which is pretty much what we were preparing for,” White said. “But frankly, things are going a little better than we might have expected in some respects.”

White said there have been few disruptions to IU’s operations since the resumption of classes on Monday. However, White indicated some IU support departments have had to make do while transmission remains high.

“You may have five people out this week, they get well in five days with the new CDC guidance and they're back,” White said. “Then the next five are out for a while. So it's kind of a rotating thing.”

Contact Patrick McGerr at pmcgerr@heraldt.com, 812-307-5636, or follow @patrickmcgerr on Twitter.

This article originally appeared on The Herald-Times: COVID testing sites in Monroe County strained, coronavirus cases rise

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