SOUTHERN INDIANA — COVID-19 hospitalizations in Southern Indiana are higher now than at any other time during the pandemic, hospital leaders say.

Clark Memorial Health and Baptist Health Floyd both have seen major increases in the number of COVID-19 cases at the hospitals, and health experts and hospital leaders are concerned about a projected increase in cases related to Thanksgiving gatherings.

Across the state, hospitals were treating 3,401 COVID-19 patients on Sunday, including nearly 970 in intensive care units.

According to an analysis of data by the Indianapolis Star, Indiana ranks second in the country for COVID-19 hospitalizations per capita with about 50 out of every 100,000 Hoosiers hospitalized with COVID-19. South Dakota has the worst hospitalization rate per capita at 61 per 100,000.

The Indiana State Department of Health reported 5,518 new COVID-19 cases and another 142 deaths Tuesday. Gov. Eric Holcomb announced Tuesday that the state’s public health emergency will be extended another 30 days.

Mike Schroyer, president of Baptist Health Floyd, said the hospital is now seeing the highest number of COVID-19 hospitalizations yet with a total of 55 patients. Hospitalizations started to go up more than two weeks ago, and there was a significant spike this weekend.

“Earlier, when the COVID-19 pandemic started…the highest [number of hospitalizations] was 39,” he said.”About two-and-a-half weeks ago, we jumped up to 43, it came back down, and now we’ve jumped up to 55.”

Schroyer said the hospital has adequate staff and resources to care for COVID-19 patients, and they are not facing any shortages of ICU beds or ventilators. The hospital has surge plans in place, and although it has not had to alter appointments or elective procedures at this time, hospital leaders are re-evaluating the situation on a daily basis, he said.

“We’re doing everything we can to keep the staff’s spirits up, and we’re constantly looking to assure that we have enough resources available to them,” Schroyer said. “Just like everybody else, this has gone on for a while now, and we’ll be glad when it’s over. We constantly look at [the situation] on a daily basis and just keep doing what we have to do.”

Martin Padgett, CEO of Clark Memorial Health, said there were 37 COVID-19 patients in the hospital as of Tuesday, and the number reached 39 — the highest number of COVID-19 patients yet — a day or two ago. As of Tuesday, COVID-19 cases accounted for 34% of all in-patients, compared with about 5% at the end of July.

The hospital has 21 ICU beds, all of which are in use for both COVID-19 patients and other patients, Padgett said, and seven out of 21 ventilators are in use. The biggest challenge is staffing — the hospital has adequate staffing to care for COVID-19 patients at the moment, he said, but he is concerned about a potential spike in cases related to Thanksgiving gatherings.

“We had Thanksgiving five days ago, and what we can’t do is predict how much of an increase we’re going to see 10 days from now,” Padgett said. “It would be difficult if we went from 34% to a number above. We will work very closely with our sister hospitals in the community — both here in Southern Indiana and Louisville — to make sure we’re working together and taking care of patients and transferring patients when we need to.”

Padgett said if hospitalizations continue to rise, it might become necessary for Clark Memorial to turn operating rooms and other clinical rooms into rooms for COVID-19 patients, and elective procedures could be halted to free up more staff.

“We have not ceased elective services at this point, but it is a decision we talk about every day,” he said.

Schroyer also expressed concerns about a rise in cases during the holiday season, and he urges the community to remain vigilant and follow mask-wearing, social distancing and sanitation guidelines.

“That’s why it’s important for people to follow the guidelines and not get in large crowds,” he said. “With the holidays coming up, that will help minimize the spikes. We’ll continue to do what we’re doing right now to make sure we have the resources to be here when the community needs us.”

Floyd County Health Officer Dr. Tom Harris said the county is seeing a downward trend in its positivity rate, but that could soon be reversed if there is another spike in cases. A month ago, the county was at a 18.23% positivity rate, but the preliminary rate for this week is 16.19% with over 200 tests outstanding.

“We’ll really start seeing cases from Thanksgiving potentially this Thursday, and we should have a handle on how bad it is by Dec. 10,” he said.

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