COVID-19 update: Top Hoosier health official’s forecast of “very steep rise in cases” true just one day later

Kristina Box, the health commissioner for the state of Indiana, warned at a Wednesday news conference about the looming impact of the Omicron variant of COVID-19.

Box put it this way: “We expect to see a very steep rise in cases over the next several weeks.”

On Thursday, the update to the state’s dashboard for COVID-19 data showed the biggest number of reported cases for any day since the start of the pandemic about 22 months ago.

According to the dashboard data, across the state of Indiana, 12,004 positive cases were reported for Dec. 29. That’s 1.5 times the previous high of 8,436 on Dec. 2, 2020.

The 12,004 cases pushed the current 7-day rolling average of positive cases in the Hoosier state to 5,784. Up until Thursday’s update, the statewide rolling averages had been trending in the low- to mid-4,000s.

In Monroe County, the positive cases reported for Dec. 29 showed a similar spike. The 163 cases reported for Dec. 29 in Monroe County made for the second-highest total of the pandemic. The only day with a higher total was Sept. 10, 2020, when 235 positive tests were recorded.

Late in the day on Thursday, the city of Bloomington reported an additional eight employees had tested positive for the pandemic virus, which made for 36 cases in the month of December. That outpaced the previous monthly high of 22, which was recorded in December 2020.

The one statistic that has not shown a steep increase in late 2021 has been the number of deaths. In Monroe County, November this year saw 17 deaths due to COVID-19, compared to 16 in 2020.

In December last year, 60 people in Monroe County died of the pandemic virus, according to state department of health statistics. In December 2021 so far, Monroe County has seen 12 COVID-19 deaths, just one-fifth the number last year.

The figure will likely climb by at least a few cases, when the book is closed on December this year. That’s because the month has a couple days left, and  deaths are assigned to the date of the death, not the day it was reported. That means deaths that happen in late December, but are not reported until early January, will still be logged in the state’s dataset by their December date.

Hospitalizations, in contrast to deaths, have spiked right along with the number of confirmed positive cases.

As IU Health south central region president Brian Shockney put it at Thursday’s news conference of local Bloomington leaders: “We are beyond our bed capacity—if you want to talk about what was designated for inpatient beds. I think probably every hospital in the state is at that point as well.”

Shockney described how IU Health’s new hospital facility, on Bloomington’s east side near the SR-46 bypass, is designed to have flexible room configurations that allow the hospital to “flex” the space. Beds not designated for inpatients are being adapted for that use.

Shockney described some beds that are typically used for surgical patients—they would normally start and end their procedures there. Given that all except for emergency surgical procedures have been stopped, those rooms are now being used for COVID-19 patients, Shockney said.

Shockney closed out his remarks by asking that people keep their New Year’s gatherings small. “I’d like to ask you to keep your New Year’s celebration to those small groups and families where you’re being safe and stopping the spread of this virus.”

Shockney talked about the best way to honor those who have suffered with COVID-19, the healthcare and public health heroes, and those who have died. Shockney called on people to usher in 2022 in a “peaceful and respectful way, remembering the past and protecting our future.”