COVID-19

Health board: Downside of omicron curve as dangerous as upside

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Officers at the Montgomery County Health Department urged residents Tuesday to continue implementing protective measures as the COVID-19 omicron variant surge is reaching its peak.

Even after the predicted Jan. 26 peak by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation, cases are expected to mount for another four to six weeks.

“On the one hand, yes, we’re peaking, but that also means the downside of the curve is going to be similar to the upside,” Health Officer Dr. Scott Douglas said. “We’re still going to have high cases ... and it’s still going to be a challenge in terms of testing and treatment at the hospital.”

Franciscan Health Crawfordsville is proving no exception to the nation-wide dilemma of overcrowded hospitals. The facility was at 140% capacity Jan. 13 and things have only gotten worse. Per a seven-day rolling average, the county has seen as many as 100 positive cases reported in the last week.

Officers insist numbers in daily cases reported are not due to increased testing. Similar testing rates were performed in January 2021 with lower seven-day averages.

“We’re just getting far more positive cases out of it,” Douglas said. “Omicron is life threatening. We’re seeing fewer deaths, and that’s compared to this time last year, but this time last year nobody was vaccinated. In January (this year) we had a lot of fatalities from omicron in folks that were vulnerable but unvaccinated. Since Aug. 1, we’ve had six deaths under the age of 50 in Montgomery County, and we’ve had a death under the age of 40.

“Omicron is not a ‘safe’ virus.”

The hospital has again suspended elective surgeries in order to allocate staff to help treat covid-positive patients in the intensive care unit, which has expanded but still sends patients to larger hospitals in the region for more acute care. And it’s not just the patients who are struggling; the staff is struggling, as well.

“It’s very hard on the hospital not to be doing elective procedures — their hernia repairs and their breast biopsies and gallbladder surgeries and joint surgeries and joint replacements — so it’s a huge challenge,” Douglas said.

Current positivity rates sit at 34% and patients at Franciscan Health who are on bed hold — waiting to be transfered to an open bed at a larger hospital — have told board president Nancy Sennett they have been waiting 90 hours or more for ICU beds in Lafayette or Indianapolis, which may or may not become available.

“I think for some people they don’t realize it is a very scary thing,” Sennett said. “Timing is everything.”

“It’s just astounding,” Douglas said.

Still, officers and board members remain cautiously optimistic as spring approaches, with epidemiologists predicting the death rate in Indiana could be down to one or two cases a day by May 1.

“The vaccinations are really important,” Douglas said. “I’m a little fearful that the interest in getting vaccinated will diminish as these numbers start to go down and folks start to feel like they don’t have to worry. We’re still susceptible to outbreaks, just like we’re susceptible to outbreaks of measles or mumps or rubella.”

Masks, social distancing and avoiding close quarters with groups is essential to curbing the virus. Members also warned of counterfeit covid tests being sold at convenience stores and other outlets.

In other business, the board:

• Introduced incoming board members Brian Keim and Carolyn Snyder.

• Discussed the department’s struggle in finding a nurse for the facility. A relatively low salary despite more hours than typical RN positions is one issue board members say is not allowing the department to attract qualified candidates.

• Discussed adjusting the department’s logo as other county services adopt a bicentennial-themed logo.

The next public meeting for the Montgomery County Health Department is 6 p.m. March 22 at 308 W. Market St. For more information, visit www.montgomerycounty.in.gov or call 765-364-6440.

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  • Asp_Burgers

    Well, what do you expect with half the population without masks or under their noses or chins? What do you expect when there are as many as 10 or 15 maskless people crowded around in stores? I'm telling you, mandating masks and distancing is the only way since those viruses have a way of working themselves around vaccines. I'm all for 100% participation of masks wearing and wearing them correctly, distancing and sanitizing or be required to stay home if these practices aren’t followed. . I'm definitely practicing what I am preaching. I sure trust my dreams more than I do Politicians and health professionals.

    Thursday, January 27 Report this