SOUTHERN INDIANA — As COVID-19 cases rise across Indiana, Southern Indiana health officials are concerned that Clark and Floyd counties are heading in the wrong direction.
Indiana reached a record one-day high Friday of more than 2,000 new COVID-19 cases, the Indiana Department of Health reported. The state also reported 22 new deaths, bringing the total number of deaths to 3,654.
Both Clark and Floyd counties have seen more new COVID-19 cases in the weeks after the state’s move to Stage 5, which took place Sept. 26.
In Floyd County, the positivity rate was 10.68% for the week of Oct. 5-11, according to the Floyd County Health Department. The week before, the positivity rate was 6.98%.
Floyd County’s health officer, Dr. Tom Harris, said he expected to see an increase as the state entered Stage 5, and the county is now seeing an “upward trend that has been fairly sustained here recently.”
“The state government’s intent is to get open, back in business and stuff like that,” Harris said. “We get all that at the health department, but we want to make sure people know this thing isn’t over. We need to continue to wear masks, practice social distancing and all the stuff we’ve been advising over the past months.”
Harris said events that took place in downtown New Albany last weekend are sources of concern. Although Harvest Homecoming was canceled, unofficial events such as a bar walk attracted large gatherings.
“I’m not trying to be a killjoy or force people to remain in barricaded rooms, but packing a bar without masks on — nothing good is going to come of that,” he said.
Clark County is seeing a major upswing in cases with the positivity rate at about 12% as of Friday, according to Clark County’s health officer, Dr. Eric Yazel. The county was slightly below 7% positivity when the state went to Stage 5.
He is concerned that people are taking “their foot off the gas” with the state’s move to Stage 5. He said the uptick is likely related to multiple factors, including less compliance with mask-wearing and social distancing protocols and more people moving gatherings indoors due to cooler weather.
Yazel is also worried about the effects of people traveling during fall breaks for local schools. As people return home, there could be a further climb in cases, he said. With Halloween approaching, large parties are also a major concern for potential spread of the virus.
Previous shifts to different stages of reopening have led to upticks in Clark County, Yazel said, but the increase with Stage 5 “has been a little more profound.” He said he expects the county to continue to see an increase in cases until people make behavioral changes.
“We’ve tried this whole time the approach of working with community through education and not trying to mandate everything to death…,” Yazel said. “We hope to continue that path and educate everyone, but we’re heading in the wrong direction, so let’s refocus and redouble efforts again and nip that in the bud.”
Harris warns of “COVID fatigue” as people tire of restrictions caused by the virus.
“People are getting tired,” he said. “It’s understandable, but the wrong response. We need people to continue the game at this point. I hear some stuff where it’s becoming a personal liberty issue with right-wing, left-wing things, and it’s really not. Regardless of your political orientation, we’re all pretty much at risk for this. It’s not an expression of political doctrine. It’s common sense.”
Harris is also worried about a possible “twindemic” with the approach of flu season, and he encourages people to get flu shots.
With the increase in cases, there has been an uptick in COVID-19 patients at the Clark Memorial Health intensive care unit, Yazel said, but the county is not seeing a strain on the hospital’s resources. On Thursday night, there were 17 COVID-19 cases in the ICU, he said.
Yazel urges the community “to see the process through” and remember that “we don’t get to decide” when COVID-19 is over.
“We need to have a sense of community and look out for those more at risk — what can we do to help families and neighbors,” he said. “We need to get through this together. I don’t know a time I can remember where things were more polarized, but if there’s anything we’re in the same boat on, it’s that we’re all affected by COVID — let’s work together.”