The coronavirus will get worse in Montgomery County, health officer Dr. Scott Douglas warned Tuesday, as the rate of positive infections climbs across the state.
“Even though we’ve been dealing with this now since March, I don’t think we’ve even started facing what we’re really going to face in terms of the community dealing with COVID,” Douglas said during a meeting of the Montgomery County Health Board in Fusion 54.
Positive cases have been trending higher for the past two weeks, likely due to the Fourth of July holiday, according to the health department. The numbers are based on a rolling seven-day average from the Regenstrief Institute, which tracks COVID-19 data.
The county reported another new positive case and one more COVID-related death Wednesday. The latest count brings to 307 the total number of cases since March with 21 deaths.
Across west central Indiana, virus-related ICU admissions and emergency room visits are also on the rise, according to Regenstrief. The number of hospitalizations is little changed, but could end up trending in the same direction, Douglas said.
While fewer people are dying from COVID-19 statewide, the public health community doesn’t rely on the death rate to assess the progress because it can take days for a virus death to be reported.
More telling is the higher rate of positive results across the state. In the last week, the rate of confirmed infections has climbed to about 20% from as low as 6% for some areas a month ago, Douglas said.
“And what’s more alarming about that is the fact that we are testing more people that we think should be negative,” he added.
Without enough testing supplies available, Douglas raised concerns about the state being able to meet the increased demand for testing, including from patients scheduling elective surgeries or college students returning to campus in the fall.
For now, public health leaders say there’s a silver lining: The rate of people currently infected at a given time is lower, compared to states where cases are surging.
“Indiana is in good shape right now, but I don’t think we’re doing a whole lot different than some of those other states. I think we’re going to end up close to where they are,” Douglas said. “We’re just behind.”
Those concerns are informing the health department’s discussions with local schools, which have released detailed re-opening plans for the first week in August. Keeping students home since March played a key factor in controlling the virus, Douglas said, and “it’s going to be awfully hard to socially distance kids far enough” to limit the spread in schools.
The health department praised schools for their work balancing the needs of students and staff.
“They’ve got a lot on their plate,” administrator Amber Reed said, “and I don’t think people are giving them near the credit when you consider what they did all summer long to make sure kids were fed and had what they needed … with smiles on their faces.”
As more activities resume this summer, experts urge people to maintain social distancing. Douglas cited a study showing that in a group of 100 people, there’s a 27% of becoming infected with the virus.
“[People] just don’t understand that each time you add another person to the group, the risk increases,” he said.