Indiana hospitals less stressed as COVID-19 surge passes

Officials at Indiana’s largest hospital system said Tuesday that its hospitals have weathered the worst of the latest COVID-19 surge, although they are still treating hundreds of patients with the illness.

The update from IU Health officials came as Indiana has seen steep declines in the past month in COVID-19 deaths, hospitalizations and new infections from the surge brought on by the delta and omicron variants.

The total patient counts have improved enough that a U.S. Navy team left IU Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis on Tuesday, two months after the 23-member team arrived there to help staffers exhausted from the surge in COVID-19 patients.

IU Health Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Chris Weaver said the system’s 16 hospitals across the state now have about 250 COVID-19 patients after peaking at more than 600 last month.

The total COVID-19 patients at all Indiana hospitals has dropped to about 1,100 people, down about two-thirds from mid-January, according to state health department tracking. Indiana’s rate of COVID-19 deaths is now about 30 a day, down from about 75 a day about a month ago.

IU Health officials said they expect hospitals to have high patient counts for several months as they treat those who’ve had surgeries or other medical care delayed because of the pandemic.

Those patients are keeping hospitals “extremely busy,” said Dr. Mark Luetkemeyer, chief medical officer of IU Health’s Adult Academic Health Center.

“We’re not stretched to the point that we were in January,” Luetkemyer said. “That wasn’t sustainable for us.”

Several hospitals across the state had assistance from small Indiana National Guard teams as the state’s hospitals reached their highest-overall patient counts in December after the COVID-19 surge started in November.

The strain on Indiana hospitals continued as the omicron variant caused a huge spike in cases, reaching as high as a daily average of about 17,000 confirmed new infections in mid-January. The state health department is now recording fewer than one-tenth as many new infections.

Health officials have continued to urge more COVID-19 vaccinations among Indiana residents as the state’s 53.9% of population being fully vaccinated is the ninth lowest in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr. Michele Saysana, IU Health’s chief quality and safety officer, said she wasn’t as concerned about the recent relaxing of precautions, such as mask requirements in schools, as she was during the recent surge.

“We have to figure out a way to be able to do things safely, to encourage masking and encourage, especially, vaccination because those are the best prevention strategies we have,” Saysana said. “But also realize it does, at some point, have to be people’s personal decision and personal responsibility.”

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