As Indiana COVID-19 cases hit 645, state not detailing ICU capacity

The number of presumptive Indiana coronavirus cases rose to 645, the Indiana State Department of Health reported Thursday morning, up from 477 a day earlier. Three additional deaths were reported, bringing the statewide toll to 17.

The increase comes as nearly an additional 1,300 test results were reported to the state. The health department reported 4,651 tests had been reported as of midnight.

New fatalities were reported Thursday in Franklin, Jasper and Putnam counties. Previously, six deaths had been reported in Marion County, three in Johnson County, and one each in Allen, Delaware, Hancock, Howard and Scott counties.

More than half the reported cases have been in Indianapolis and surrounding counties. As of Thursday, Marion County had 293 presumptive cases, followed by Hamilton County (40), Johnson County (36) Hendricks County (21) and Hancock County (9).

Sixty of Indiana’s 92 counties now have reported cases to the Department of Health. Outside central Indiana, counties with the most cases include Lake (31), St. Joseph (21) Decatur (13), Franklin (13), Ripley (11) and Clark (10).

The ISDH says the number of those tested for COVID-19 reflects only those tests reported to the department and the numbers should not be characterized as a comprehensive total.

State Department of Health coronavirus updates are available here. The health department is providing updated data daily at 10 a.m. EDT based on results received through midnight.

Health officials say Indiana has far more coronavirus cases — possibly thousands more — than those indicated by the number of tests.

Meanwhile, Indiana health officials declined Wednesday to provide details on hospital capacity around the state as confirmed coronavirus-related illnesses continued to grow quickly as a statewide stay-at-home order took effect Wednesday aimed at slowing spread of the virus.

Here’s a look at what’s happening statewide.

Hospital preparedness

Dr. Kristina Box, the state health commissioner, cited confidentiality arrangements with hospitals for not releasing details about intensive care unit capacity and equipment availability around the state. She said she’s seeing “positive movements” in availability of ICU beds and ventilators.

“Because everybody is stepping up to the plate and trying to pretty much double their ICU capacity, I’m seeing those numbers increase as we go along,” Box said.

In contrast, Illinois officials have provided updates such as the number of occupied hospital beds and ventilators in use around the state and projections on what medical services will be needed if the virus outbreak isn’t contained.

Box said the state health department received several truckloads of medical worker protection items such as masks, face shields and gowns this week and was distributing supplies to hospitals and county health officials.

When asked whether the state had a two-week supply of such items available, Box replied: “We are better off than that, I can guarantee you. I’ve got many hospitals and local health departments that haven’t even yet asked for their allotment.”

Stay-at-home order

Gov. Eric Holcomb’s order issued Monday for Indiana residents to remain at home for two weeks began early Wednesday to limit the spread of the coronavirus. The order has exceptions for workers in essential industries or for necessary trips for food and medicine. Holcomb’s order continues through April 6, but he said it could be extended.

Indiana’s order mirrors similar ones in adjacent Illinois, Michigan and Ohio and directs Hoosiers to stay at home unless their job is an essential function, such as a health care provider, grocery store clerk, police, fire and other first responders, or those working in garbage collection, public transit and key state services.

Inmates still eating together

 Indiana’s prison populations are still eating meals together in large groups and mixing during outdoor recreation.

The Indiana Department of Correction suspended visitation at its prisons two weeks ago to limit the possibility of the virus being brought into the state’s 20 correctional facilities. A recent directive from the agency’s commissioner also outlined pandemic procedures, including monitoring for outbreaks and separating ill offenders from other inmates.

But hundreds of inmates are still together during outdoor recreation time, and offenders take their meals together in large groups, The Journal Gazette reported Wednesday.

Agency spokesman David Bursten saidduring outdoor recreation periods, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines on social distancing of six feet or more “are being followed as permitted.”

He said that regarding inmate meal times, Indiana’s “correctional housing facility does not allow for meal service in groups of 10 or less.”

The department points out that there are no known cases of COVID-19 among the nearly 27,000 offenders housed at the state’s prisons, but it also concedes it hasn’t tested any of those inmates.

Bursten said 13 staff agency members have been tested for COVID-19 and some staff were positive. But he provided no other details on cases of the virus among employees with the department, which has more than 5,600 employees, according to the state website.

“The Indiana Department of Correction will manage infectious diseases in correctional facilities through a comprehensive approach which includes prevention, testing, appropriate treatment, education, and infection control measures,” the agency wrote on its website.

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