Tier 1A vaccinations 1 (copy)

Lisa Ralston, a home health aide, gets her second dose of COVID-19 vaccine in late January at Clark Memorial Health.

SOUTHERN INDIANA — While the rate of new COVID-19 cases has dropped significantly across Indiana from several months ago — including in Clark and Floyd counties — health officials say it’s still important to take safety precautions to help the rates continue to go down.

On Wednesday, Clark and Floyd counties were among the majority of Indiana counties to be designated with a yellow status on the Indiana State Department of Health’s color-coded map. The map uses metrics of the number of new cases per week per 100,000 residents and the seven-day positivity rate for all tests to determine the status. Blue denotes lowest spread and red is the highest.

Clark and Floyd were both in yellow when the map system was implemented in September, but hadn’t dipped that low since and had both reached red in the past months. Orange restrictions will still be in place for the next two weeks under state order, which means gatherings are still limited to 50 people in Clark and Floyd counties.

As of Wednesday, Clark County had a seven-day positivity rate of 12.3% — a big difference from the higher than 30% it saw a couple of months ago. By Thursday, it was down again to 12%. Floyd County’s percentage Wednesday was 16.3% and dropped to 14.9% Thursday; the most recent statewide percentage is even lower at 11.7%.

Clark County Health Officer Dr. Eric Yazel said Wednesday that this is the county’s lowest positivity rate since at least October, before holiday gatherings that may have contributed to a sharp winter rise, and that it’s “literally down 20% in a couple weeks.

“I think it’s exciting; it tells us that we need to keep doing what we’re doing. We can’t take our foot off the pedal on some things we’re doing but it’s a sign that things are getting better and I think everybody needs to hear that.”

He said other factors could also be in play — the first vaccinations began rolling out in mid-December, and the recent colder weather may be keeping more people at home.

“I think the more and more people that are vaccinated you’re going to continue to see that go down,” he said, adding that “Staying at home helps keep everybody apart and social distanced naturally. We’ll just have to watch and see when we get to spring break— that’s probably the next travel spot but hopefully we’ll continue to see that positivity rate go down.”

Floyd County Health Officer Dr. Tom Harris said that like Clark, Floyd County’s biggest peak for new cases was just before Christmas, with a smaller spike afterward.

“We’re happy to see that we’re improving,” he said. As of Wednesday, there had been close to 20,000 vaccination doses administered in Floyd County. Although it’s still just available for people 65 and older, health care workers and first responders, Harris said that the vaccinations to date account for about half of the people expected to opt for it, and that “We’re starting to make some progress there. The goal is to keep chipping away at it and try to get more people vaccinated but [we’re seeing] signs of progress and we’re all happy about that.”

The downward trend in new cases is accompanied by fewer people being treated for COVID-19 or related issues in local hospitals. As of 6 a.m. Thursday, Baptist Health Floyd in New Albany had 15 COVID patients, less than a third of the 52 that were hospitalized there a month ago, said Brian Cox, director of Emergency Management at the hospital.

The peak hospitalizations were in November and December with the highest day at 73 patients being treated for COVID on Dec, 8, which Cox said was likely a direct correlation to the Thanksgiving holiday.

That number reached capacity for beds for those patients, and Cox said the hospital had to start using some of the non-COVID patient rooms, but there was never a point when they were unable to treat someone.

“We have contingency plans for spaces should we be out of regular patient rooms,” he said, adding that the number of staff being quarantined due to exposure has also dropped by a third in the last two weeks.

At Clark Memorial Health in Jeffersonville, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Klaus Boel said the hospital is seeing a significant decrease from the peak number of 47 patients in early January.

But health officials say it’s not time to relax — the numbers show that things in place like masks, hand-washing and social distancing have been working.

“I think the message is that just because numbers are down isn’t because of the virus, it’s because of things we’re doing,” Boel said. He added that even though he, as a health care professional, and his parents, both over 80, have all been vaccinated, they still take precautions for safety right now including wearing masks while visiting outside only.

Cox also urged people to keep adhering to the health guidelines.

“We don’t want to think it’s gone away and have it come because people aren’t following the rules,” he said. “We don’t want to keep seeing a resurgence.”

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