INDIANAPOLIS – Economist Micah Pollak, an associate professor of economics at IU Northwest, actively tracks COVID-19 trends in Indiana, often tweeting graphs and statistics.
“More than any other time, we need to be cautious we need to take precautions,” Pollak said. “Even if we think we’re going to be okay, I don’t think our hospital system will be.”
Lines at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s state-run testing and vaccine site were steady Friday afternoon.
“When there’s more concern about a new variant you not only see more testing being done but you see more vaccinations being done,” Pollak said.
Pollak said cases are up more than 150% since November.
“If a bunch of people are just suddenly getting tested that weren’t before, you’d expect that positivity rate to drop because you have a lot of people that were more concerned than they were before. Instead, though we’re seeing record-high positivity rates, so that suggests that we’re actually seeing a lot more spread,” Pollak said.
He believes testing capacity may become an issue soon, especially with the possibility of the omicron variant being detected in Indiana.
Pollak said cases are “bad,” but “not the worst ever.” Hospitalizations, on the other hand, are a real concern. Pollack said when it comes to ICU beds about 355 are available across the state, but in District Five, where the majority of the state’s hospitals are concentrated, there are 64 beds available.
Here's population per currently open ICU bed.— Micah Pollak (@MicahPollak) December 16, 2021
Statewide: 18,964 people/bed.
Dist. 1: 25,416/bed
Dist. 2: 38,777/bed
Dist. 3: 9,561/bed
Dist. 4: 127,292/bed
Dist. 5: 29,567/bed
Dist. 6: 124,923/bed
Dist. 7: 11,528/bed
Dist. 8: 64,098/bed
Dist. 9: 77,497/bed
Dist. 10: 9,977/bed
Pollack added: “This time around I think we’re paying a lot more attention to the fact that a bed is just a bed without the staff to support it. You need doctors and nurses and specialists … I think there’s a lot more emphasis on are these beds available?”
Marion County is included in the state health department’s District Five classification.
“We are seeing hospitals at capacity, COVID numbers are rising, we’re starting to see influenza, as well,” Melissa McMasters said. She is the Administrator of the Marion County Public Health Department’s Immunization and Infectious Disease Program.
“I don’t think that the move is to move back towards mandates,” McMasters said.
Instead, the MCPHD administrator said families need to assess the risk level they are willing to take when deciding on attending gatherings and events. This comes as the county is set to welcome thousands of people for events — like the Crossroads Classic on Saturday and National College Football Championship next month.
Below is a Q&A between WRTV's Nikki DeMentri and McMasters:
Nikki DeMentri: “What are you guys doing to make sure health wise we stay safe here and should we be having these events with that many people?”
McMasters: “I think across the country we are still seeing those events happening and Dr. Caine, of course, our medical officer has been meeting with all of those different entities to give advice. One thing that I think is really important, and I know I mentioned it already, but masking, wearing masks, there may not be a mandate, but that doesn't mean it's not a good idea. There's so many respiratory infections going on right now besides COVID.”
DeMentri: “Is there something [the MCPHD is] talking about daily or looking at daily to keep folks here in Marion County safe again, as far as COVID is concerned?”
McMasters: “Yeah, I think we continue to plan clinics, vaccination clinics throughout the Christmas time into the new year. So those are one of the key strategies, as we mentioned, but also looking at numbers or if there's certain businesses or schools that have issues, we consult with them and try to mitigate and make sure that they're doing the right thing. So right now, you know, we're just kind of continuing what we've done, and really encouraging those mitigation measures of washing your hands, wearing a mask and getting the booster. People kind of hear when they hear that the variant, you know, again, might not be as susceptible to the vaccine. That doesn't mean the vaccine doesn't work at all. You're going to have some base immunity there. So want to want to make sure people get that message.”
The message from McMasters and Pollak is the same: get vaccinated, get boosted and wear a mask regardless of vaccine status.
“Even if you’re indifferent about COVID, you think your risk of COVID is very low, and you’ve been fully vaccinated, you need to pay attention to what’s going on in the hospitals. Those hospital resources we always kind of count on being there if we need them, may not be there right now or may have really long delays,” Pollack said.
Interview requests the past two days with state health leaders Dr. Kristina Box and Dr. Lindsay Weaver were denied. A spokesperson told WRTV they were unavailable both days. WRTV will continue pushing for interviews with the state health department.