COVID-19 hospitalizations remain low as summer arrives

COVID-19 cases are rising across the state and nation, but locally, health officials have only seen a trickle of people hospitalized with the virus.

At Johnson Memorial Hospital, doctors have seen a steady trickle of COVID-19 patients needing to be hospitalized since March. On Thursday, there was one patient in the hospital for COVID-19, and they were doing OK, said Dr. David Dunkle, hospital president and CEO.

In most of the cases at JMH, COVID-19 hasn’t been the primary diagnosis for admission, but rather doctors discovered the patients had the coronavirus through precautionary testing conducted as part of the admission process. Overall, the hospital has mainly seen unvaccinated people be admitted for COVID-19, he said.

“Unvaccinated people are still the majority we’ve seen,” Dunkle said. “We’ve seen that since vaccines first became available.”

Doctors have also not seen the severity of illness or fatalities they had experienced in the past. This is due to a combination of factors, including the number of vaccinated people, immunity from the last surge and the fact more people are outside and not in confined spaces where the virus can more easily spread, Dunkle said.

Locally, the majority of the county’s positive cases over the last seven days have been people who have been infected for the first time, according to the state’s COVID-19 dashboard. Additionally, no Johnson County resident has died of COVID-19 complications since April 30.

Since April 14, at least 15 people have been hospitalized and tested positive for COVID-19 in Johnson County, 12 of which were admitted to an intensive care unit, according to data from the Regenstrief Institute.

Statewide, the seven-day average for positive cases has been 1,188, and nationally, the average has been around 110,446, state and national data show. In terms of statewide hospitalizations, at least 908 people have been hospitalized and tested positive, and 788 have been admitted to an ICU since April 14, data shows.

While cases are rising both nationally and in Indiana, the rates are still not near what doctors saw during previous surges. Doctors are always a bit concerned when cases increase, but hospitalizations have not seen a large increase, which is a good thing, Dunkle said.

“Overall cases have slowly upticked, but it hasn’t resulted in an increase in hospitalizations,” Dunkle said. “That’s what we watch for. We really haven’t seen that, which is great.”

The Johnson County Health Department is continuing to test for and vaccinate people against COVID-19 daily at its offices in Franklin. While the number of people being tested fluctuates each week, the department is giving anywhere between 50 to 75 COVID-19 vaccinations a week. There also are a number of people getting vaccinated for the first time, said Betsy Swearingen, health department director,

“We still have first-time people getting vaccinated, which is fantastic,” Swearingen said. “Every time we can give people a vaccine, we consider it a success.”

Health department officials have also seen a steady of number children getting vaccinated for COVID-19, she said. Last week, the federal government authorized a booster dose for children ages 5-11. Shortly after, the state told vaccine providers that they could begin administering boosters to children in this age group whose last dose was administered at least five months ago.

Residents should be aware that there will be changes to the department’s vaccination and testings clinic at the end of June, as the two grants paying for the clinics expire on June 30. After this deadline passes, vaccinations will be available on an appointment-only basis, though the department is exploring ideas for the possibility of walk-ins, Swearingen said.

For testing, once the June deadline passes, the health department will only be providing rapid tests. Unless something changes, health officials will be giving out rapid tests for the public to use test themselves, as long as supplies last, she said.

“The testing part is a more fluid situation,” Swearingen said.

There is also always a chance the Indiana Department of Health (IDOH) could provide additional funding for the clinics just before the June 30 deadline.

“I’m still waiting to see if they give us another grant to keep testing and vaccination clinics going,” Swearingen said. “We will be ready if they do.”

Through another IDOH grant, the health department was able to hire a school liaison to help schools get caught up with anything they fell behind ob during the pandemic. That includes hearing and vision screenings, immunization record updates and vaccinations. The liaison, whose position is funded through state monies for two years, will also be planning pop-up clinics for children, she said.

“The school liaison is there to be the contact for the health department to help (schools) with anything they need,” Swearingen said.

Johnson Memorial is planning to continue to keep all of its COVID-19 surveillance measures in place, including screening visitors and testing all admitted patients. The hospital is being cautious as the situation could always change, Dunkle said.

“We feel comfortable with what we’re doing right now,” he said. “I appreciate the support from the public and how hard my staff has worked. It has not been easy over the last few years, but they’ve done a good job.”

With at-home tests becoming more of a norm, more people are likely to test positive than what is reported on state tracking dashboards.

At-home tests are not reported on dashboards, so if you do test at home and test positive, you should acknowledge the test and follow isolation protocols, Swearingen said.

The county health department will do its best to help prevent county residents from contracting COVID-19, Swearingen said.

“No matter what, we will get vaccines to them and we will help get them tested,” she said.

Going into the summer, Dunkle recommends those who are unvaccinated to get vaccinated and to continue to follow health and safety measures.

“My recommendation is to be safe, follow good hand hygiene, get vaccinated, and if you’re around people and you’re not sure of their vaccine status … wear a mask,” Dunkle said.