Indiana’s hospitals will have to postpone elective surgeries starting next week under an order the state’s governor said Wednesday was needed to free up hospital capacity amid steep recent increases in serious COVID-19 illnesses.
An initial shipment of some 55,000 doses of the first coronavirus vaccine is expected to arrive at Indiana hospitals next week as front-line health care workers start to receive shots.
Gov. Eric Holcomb said that hospitals were being directed to postpone all non-urgent in-patient surgeries beginning Dec. 16 through Jan. 3.
Holcomb said Indiana is “on fire” with coronavirus spread as the number of Indiana counties with the highest risk level of coronavirus spread more than doubled in the state health department’s weekly update. The tracking map labels 36 of the state’s 92 counties the most dangerous red category, up from 16 a week ago. All other counties are in the next riskiest orange rating.
The state halted elective medical procedures for most of April. but Holcomb lifted that restriction as concerns eased about availability of equipment and protective gear. But Indiana’s hospitals are currently treating more than quadruple the number of COVID-19 patients than they were in September, with health officials worried about hospitals being overwhelmed.
“Our nurses and our doctors, understandably, are overwhelmed and beyond exhausted ... to go into one of the toughest environments that anyone in our state’s history has had to face on a day in, day out basis,” Holcomb said.
State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box said the surgery restrictions will allow hospitals to shift health care workers to help care for patients with COVID-19.
Holcomb, a Republican, said he was extending the statewide mask order and toughening restrictions on crowd sizes that he reinstated in mid-November.
The new rules will prevent local health departments from allowing exemptions for social gatherings of more than 25 people in counties with red ratings and more than 50 people in orange-rated counties. Religious services are exempt from those limits.
Sports and extracurricular events for K-12 schools in red counties can have only participants and parents in attendance, while professional and college sports events are limited to 25% capacity with local health department approval of safety plans.
Indiana is scheduled to receive about 55,000 doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine next week if it gains the Food and Drug Administration’s expected authorization for emergency use, said Dr. Lindsay Weaver, the state health department’s chief medical officer.
Those first vaccines will be shipped to five hospitals around the state: Clark Memorial in Jeffersonville, Deaconess in Evansville, IU Health Methodist in Indianapolis, Community Hospital in Munster and Parkview in Fort Wayne. Those hospitals were picked for geographic diversity and their ability to provide the ultracold storage needed for the vaccine, Weaver said.
Indiana’s plan calls for some 400,000 healthcare workers to make up the first wave of those receiving shots during December. That includes doctors, nurses, dentists, first responders, laboratory workers and medical students. Those vaccinations will be performed at 50 hospitals statewide.
The state’s 36 red-rated counties are predominantly rural, but include northwestern Indiana’s Lake County, Fort Wayne’s Allen County and five counties adjoining Indianapolis.
The worsening county ratings come as Indiana’s number of COVID-19 deaths and hospitalizations have spiked far past the state’s peaks during the initial surge of cases during the spring.
Health officials on Wednesday added 98 confirmed recent COVID-19 deaths in recent days to the statewide toll. Those push Indiana’s toll to 6,506, including both confirmed and presumed infections.
The state’s seven-day rolling average of COVID-19 deaths has reached 67 per day after that average fell below 10 a day during July following an April peak of 42 a day.