The state will take over notifying those in Indiana possibly exposed to coronavirus infections in an action officials framed Wednesday as part of their effort toward easing statewide business restrictions.
The Democratic candidate for governor argued Indiana’s coronavirus situation hasn’t stabilized enough to loosening business restrictions in ways being considered by Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb. The actions come as health officials reported Indiana now has more than 1,000 people who have died with confirmed or likely coronavirus infections since the outbreak hit the state early last month.
MORE CONTACT TRACING
A state contractor will hire 500 call center staffers who will interview those with confirmed COVID-19 infections and track the places they’ve been and people they met, said Dr. Kristina Box, the state health commissioner. The call center is expected to start operations on May 11 for the contract tracing that public health experts say is needed to stem new outbreaks.
Gov. Eric Holcomb said he plans to announce Friday modifications to the statewide stay-at-home order that has been in effect since March 25 — a time during which that state’s confirmed deaths with COVID-19 illnesses stood at 35 fatalities.
The state health department has reported at least 600 new coronavirus infections per day for the past week. Box said that number could continue to grow as more testing becomes available.
“When we start to open up, we expect to see more cases, which will bring more contact tracing about,” Box said.
State health department and call center staffers will largely take over the tracing from county health departments, some of which Box said have been swamped by large outbreaks of cases.
The state’s $43 million contract is for a year with Virginia-based Maximus, which provides services for health care and other programs for many states and the federal government. Box said the company was selected among seven that submitted proposals because of its ability to start the tracing program quickly and its experience with the state.
The contract tracing program follows Tuesday’s announcement that another contractor will open 50 coronavirus testing sites around the state in the coming weeks, with the aim of testing 100,000 people within 30 days. That’s more than the some 91,500 tests reported to the state health department since coronavirus testing began in early March as Indiana has trailed national testing rates.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Woody Myers said the state must have more COVID-19 testing in place and see hospitalization, intensive care unit admissions and death rates decline over a period of weeks before easing up on restrictions. Myers is a doctor who was Indiana’s state health commissioner during the 1980s AIDS crisis.
“Even the coronavirus task force in the White House has said that you need to see a sustained drop over a couple weeks,” Myers said. “We’re certainly nowhere near that today.”
Holcomb has not specified his planned modifications but indicated more workplaces and businesses could reopen while under guidelines such as requiring masks, additional spacing between employees and frequent cleanings.
State officials are considering information such as hospitalization and death rates, along with the availability of intensive care unit beds and ventilators for those who are seriously ill, in deciding whether to lift any restrictions, Holcomb said.
“We’re going to have positive cases month after month after month after month after month,” Holcomb said. “It’s how we manage our way through this. It’s how we have the ability to care for those folks who are in need.”
The Indiana State Department of Health reported 63 additional deaths on Wednesday, boosting the state’s confirmed COVID-19 death toll to 964. Ten more presumed COVID-19 deaths added to the state statistics give Indiana 101 such fatalities. Those are deaths that state officials said doctors blame on coronavirus infections without confirmation of the illness from test results.
The latest state statistics showed 571 COVID-19 patients were in the intensive care units of Indiana hospitals and that 43% of ICU beds remained available as of Tuesday. That’s 25 more coronavirus patients in those ICUs than Monday, but 50 fewer than last Thursday.