INDIANAPOLIS—With 115 new cases of the novel coronavirus reported by the Indiana State Department of Health Wednesday, hospitals and state officials are trying to prepare for an increase of cases.
State Health Commissioner Dr. Kris Box, speaking Wednesday at the now-daily Statehouse news conference with Gov. Eric Holcomb, said the state currently has a total of 477 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 14 deaths, but said the increase is likely due to the increase in testing.
“We are testing more people so you’re seeing the cases go up,” Box said.
In all, she said, about 14% of those individuals who are tested are confirmed to have the virus.
Box said the state has requested the rest of its allotment of protective gear — including masks, gloves and face shields — from the national stockpile and will distribute them over the next few days.
“We’ll be distributing those to hospitals and counties at the greatest need and we’ll continue to do everything we can to support our health care workers on the front line at hospitals, EMS and long-term care facilities as they encounter shortages,” she said.
Chris Weaver, senior vice president of clinical effectiveness at Indiana University Health, told TheStatehouseFile.com earlier Wednesday that they are trying to conserve supplies as they know they will eventually face a shortage.
“We are doing our best to preserve equipment and supplies now and minimize use as much as possible, while being focused foremost on patient and team member safety,” he said.
Currently, there is little public information on just what the needs are, including the number of intensive care unit beds in hospitals and the number of ventilators. Box said the numbers are changing daily, and that some information being collected is confidential. Pressed for a better picture of just who has contracted coronavirus in Indiana, such as age groups, Box said information is still being collected from hospitals.
Brian Tabor, president of the Indiana Hospital Association, said in a news release that that group, in collaboration with Box and Jennifer Sullivan, head of the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration, is holding regional calls around the state with hospitals to coordinate needs and allocate supplies.
With schools closed but some parents still working, a key concern is child care. Jennifer McCormick, superintendent of Public Instruction, said at the press conference that the Department of Education has discussed various options for child care, and leaders are trying to determine where the need for child care is the greatest in the state.
The education department has provided guidance to school corporations that they should care for the school-aged children of essential workers. McCormick in particular singled out parents who work in health care or are first responders. The Department of Education has encouraged school corporations to open schools on a limited basis to provide child care services for emergency workers to help keep communities safe.
Among the guidance given to those school corporations is: Collecting child health records; allowing extra time for deep cleaning; prohibiting staff who are in high-risk categories from providing the care; and keeping groups of students in separate areas of the building.
In addition to the health concerns, the impact on Indiana employers and employees is a top priority. Indiana Secretary of Commerce Jim Schellinger, who joined Box and Holcomb at the news conference, said that given the state’s Triple-A credit rating and cash reserves, the state was prepared for the economic impact of an event like the COVID-19 outbreak. He and Holcomb praised the businesses across the state that have stepped up to help manufacture medical protective gear including masks.
“It’s always been interesting for me to see that in the worst of times, Hoosiers are always at their finest,” he said. “And I can tell you that the business community in Indiana is outreaching, working very hard to be in assistance to everyone and has responded in the most positive of manner.”
Holcomb said he will wait to see how much federal money the state receives before using any of the state’s $2.3 billion surplus.
“I don’t want to be playing against myself here when the federal government is stepping up to the plate in such a big way,” he said. “We will evaluate what they are able to cover and what shortcomings are left over in terms of that $2 billion.”
On Monday, Holcomb issued a stay-at-home order, asking Hoosiers in businesses not deemed essential — such as hospitals, grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations, the media and other areas — to stay away from the workplace. Wednesday, Holcomb said if workers are being called into work at businesses not deemed essential, they should first talk to their employer. After that, Holcomb said employees can file complaints with the Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Holcomb noted that new unemployment numbers soon to be released for the month of February won’t reflect the soaring numbers of people out of work due to the pandemic.
“In February, we had a record number of people working in the state of Indiana, more people working in the state of Indiana than ever before,” Holcomb said. “Oh, what a difference a month makes.”