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COVID is surging again; health officials urge indoor masks, vaccinations, boosters

·3 min read

Bloomington health officials warned that COVID-19-related hospital admissions are surging once again and urged residents to take precautions, including getting vaccinated and boosted, wearing masks indoors in public places and staying home when symptomatic.

“We are … currently in another surge,” Brian Shockney, president of the Indiana Health south central region, which includes Bloomington.

The health system’s south central region had 31 patients with COVID in the hospital as of Friday, and Shockney said the additional patients, coupled with nationwide labor constraints, are posing challenges for healthcare workers.

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“Hospitals are again struggling to find beds for inpatients,” he said. “It’s difficult to provide care for all those who need it.”

The number of new COVID-19 infections in Monroe County has remained below 50 for all but two days in the last month, according to the Indiana State Health Department dashboard, but health officials said the actual number of cases is likely to be much higher. Most people now get their infections confirmed through home tests, the results of which are not reported to local or state officials and therefore are not reflected in the official tally.

Health officials said other numbers, including rising hospitalizations, tell the story. In addition, the number of Bloomington city employees who have become infected also rose in July for the fourth consecutive month.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has classified Monroe and Brown counties as "medium," which means people at high risk for severe illness should talk to their health care providers about whether they should take precautions such as wearing a mask. All other counties contiguous to Monroe are classified as "high," which means people should wear masks indoors in public.

Shockney also said the vaccination status of people who are in the hospital with COVID-19 has flipped. For much of the time that vaccines have been available, the vast majority of people who were hospitalized with and died from the disease were unvaccinated. However, on Friday, IU Health presented a graphic showing 20 of the 31 patients in the hospital were vaccinated. In addition, half of the six people in the ICU were vaccinated, as were both of the patients on ventilators.

However, both Schockney and Dr. Aaron Carroll, Indiana University’s chief health officer, emphasized that vaccines remain effective in preventing severe disease and urged people to get their shots, including boosters.

In the 47401 ZIP code, nearly 70% of residents are fully vaccinated, according to the ISDH.

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Shockney said most people who are in the hospital with COVID have underlying conditions. And Carroll said in prior surges, his infectious disease colleagues were treating a lot of people at the hospital because they had COVID-19, whereas now, most of the medical personnel are treating people for various conditions, and those patients also happen to test positive for COVID-19.

Overall, Carroll said, recent infections have caused a relatively low number of severe disease and deaths. COVID-19 used to kill millions, he said, and vaccines have helped turn it into a disease from which most people don’t suffer severe consequences.

“This is a major victory, even if cases remain higher than we’d like,” he said.

Carroll also urged people to stay home if they have any cold or flu symptoms, regardless of whether they have a confirmed case of COVID-19.

Local health and government officials held a news conference Friday because they want people to remain alert now that schools are back in full swing and that Indiana University students are about to descend back onto the community. IU classes begin Aug. 22.

This article originally appeared on The Herald-Times: COVID-19 is surging again, health officials urge people to be cautious