Pandemic notebook: Monroe County case numbers leveling off, hospitalizations still low

The number of daily COVID-19 cases recorded in Monroe County looks like it has leveled off after a steady, if not dramatic climb.

The guidelines established by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) now peg the community spread of the virus In Monroe County at a “low” level—which is the lowest of its three categories (low, medium, and high).

Last week, the CDC reported Monroe County at a “medium” spread level, likely based on release of historical data from the state of Indiana to the CDC—which did not distribute the cases to their respective dates of testing.

That’s an issue that was addressed by Monroe County health administrator Penny Caudill at last week’s board of health meeting. “We had a jump a couple of weeks ago—the state had like a ‘data dump’. So it was old reports that got entered, and those got calculated into everything,” Caudill said.

The county’s levels were rising at the time, but they were not at the level that would have indicated a “medium” level of spread, Caudill said. “Even though our numbers were rising, they weren’t necessarily at that level.”

Caudill was still cautious, and pointed out the impact of various social gatherings related to Indiana University graduation events could still be felt.

The number of gene copies of COVID-19 measured in Bloomington’s waste water is showing high levels, Caudill said, and warrants close monitoring.

The current rolling daily average of COVID-19 cases in Monroe County looks like it has leveled off in the low 30s.

Hospitalizations in Monroe County remain low. Indiana’s Health District 8, which is made up of 7 counties including Monroe, had a census of 9 COVID-19 patients on Monday this week. That’s two more than at the end of April. But that compares to more than 170 at the peak of the pandemic.

District 8 includes Monroe, Brown, Bartholomew, Lawrence, Jackson, Orange and Washington counties.

Case numbers alone can cause the official CDC community spread classification (low, medium, high) to increase, only if they exceed a total of 200 cases in a week per 100,000 in population.

For Monroe County’s 2020 census population of 139,718, that works out to an average of about 39.9 cases a day.

Even if the number of cases stays under 200 per 100,000 population, a sufficiently high number of hospitalizations could cause the CDC classification to increase. But Monroe County is nowhere near the hospitalization numbers that would trigger that re-classification.

For Monroe County, the current COVID-19 admissions per 100,000 population reported by the CDC is 1.8. The threshold for triggering a “medium” level based on that statistic is 10.

For Monroe County, the CDC’s numbers say the current staffed inpatient beds in use by patients with confirmed COVID-19 is 2 percent. The threshold for triggering a “medium” level based on that statistic is 10 percent.

Here’s how the CDC classification scheme works:

Associated with each level are recommendations from the CDC.

For Monroe County’s current low level (green), the CDC recommends: staying up to date with COVID-19 vaccines; and getting tested if you have symptoms.

For the next level (medium, yellow), the CDC adds talking to your healthcare provider about whether you need to wear a mask and take other precautions—if you are at high risk for severe illness. Only for the highest level (red) does the CDC recommend wearing a mask indoors in public.

As measured by the number of virus gene copies in Bloomington’s sewage, the amount of virus circulating in the community is as high as it has ever been in the course of the pandemic.

For the Dillman Road wastewater treatment plant, the 3,800 gene copies per 100 ml recorded on May 2 was the third-highest measurement of the pandemic. That has been surpassed only by the 4,800 gene copies per 100 ml on Jan. 18, 2022 and 6,300 gene copies per 100 ml on March 8, 2021.

For the Blucher Poole wastewater treatment plant, the 9,200 gene copies per 100 ml measured on May 2 was the all-time pandemic high for the pandemic. The second-highest measurement at Blucher Poole was 7,200 gene copies per 100 ml, which was on Jan. 18, 2022.

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