Fayette County health officials announced that the county has some of the worst COVID-19 statistics in the country.

Wayne County also is struggling to slow the virus’ spread, with about 75 new cases reported daily on two days last week, and Reid Health setting a one-day record Friday for the number of patients in COVID containment areas.

Monday morning, Pfizer and Biontech announced promising early results in a clinical trial vaccine indicating it was effective in more than 90% of trial participants. Read the full press release here.


Impact on Wayne County, Reid
In the week ending Nov. 1, Wayne County saw a record of 259 cases in one week, closing the month of October with 671 new cases.

As of Monday’s report from the state, Wayne County has 2,059 lab-confirmed positives and 41 deaths.

The increasing number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients is keeping the hospital at “critical” bed status, and health officials fear Reid Health will have to cut back on other services if the trend continues.

Reid set a new, ominous record when it listed 68 patients in COVID containment areas, surpassing its peak of 64 in April, and that number is expected to increase as the number of COVID cases rises.

A record number of daily COVID admissions – 20 – was a factor in a record one-day admissions number of 63 patients on Thursday.

Overall, the medical/surgical bed utilization is above 90%, leaving Reid just four to five available beds at any given time.

Dr. Thomas Huth, Reid’s vice president of medical affairs, said they want to avoid diverting admission to other hospitals, but that could become necessary.

“It’s vital for everyone to do their part in trying to turn this increase around,” Huth said.

“Lives really do depend on it. So take precautions. Do it for your family. Do it for our staff who are the heroes caring for these patients.”

Wayne County posted more COVID-19 deaths in October than had happened since the outbreak began.

Thus Wayne County has inched closer to its own red ranking on the state’s weekly score chart. It has been at a 2, but increasing cases mean it now stands at 2.5.

Christine Stinson, executive director of Wayne County Health Department, said cases have been in clusters surrounding events such as weddings, funerals, church services and social gatherings in bars as well as infections spreading throughout a household.

“It is too early to see what impact Halloween will have locally,” Stinson said. “We see increasing numbers in each age range.”

Stinson said local officials would like to see more compliance with the continued masking mandate and people adhering to physical distancing of at least six feet.

“We would like to see people avoiding large gatherings,” she said.

Stinson said local health care workers are exhausted, and long-term care facilities are seeing more cases.

She said all skilled long-term care buildings in Wayne County have had either staff or residents or both test positive at some point since the pandemic began.

“These are people,” said Shelli Ross, executive director of Arbor Trace in Richmond, in Stinson’s news release. “It is heartbreaking to have to tell one of our residents or their family they have COVID. It is exhausting to carry on at this pace for our staff. Masks and social distancing are the only tools we have available to combat this deadly virus. If you do not do it for yourself, do it for the vulnerable population.”

In October, the county had 24 people die with COVID-related illness between the ages of 65 and 96. So far, one death has been reported in November. The patient, in her early 80s, was a resident of a long-term care facility.

Fayette County

Fayette County ranks in the top 100 worst counties in the United States for cases per hundred thousand on a seven-day rolling average.

As of Monday, Fayette County has had 1,112 cases and 27 deaths.

In addition, Fayette is Indiana’s only county to remain in the red level, 3, which is the state’s worst, for COVID-19 for the second straight week.

“An increase in the number of deaths will soon follow and possibly involve younger people,” said Fayette County’s Health Officer, Dr. Wayne White, about the local rise in cases.

On Nov. 4, White recommended that all Fayette County schools curtail all extracurricular activities from Nov. 5 through Nov. 16.

In a news release, Wayne said he is dismayed with “our lax response to the pandemic compared to other communities. We need to improve!”

Fayette County schools are to remain open at this time, but the need for an extension of the restriction or additional restrictions will be monitored on a daily basis.

“We all need to step up if we want to continue enjoying high school sports and extracurricular events through the winter season,” White wrote. “I want to emphasize that the spread of the virus is mainly due to community spread and not from the schools and I am heartbroken that we need to take this action.”

White said he discussed the county’s situation with Dr. Kris Box, Indiana health commissioner, and she agreed with his recommendation. Box also recommended partnering with Indiana Department of Homeland Security to coordinate spot audits of local Fayette County establishments to ensure compliance with Stage 5 mandates.

During Gov. Eric Holcomb’s weekly news conference, he did not roll the state back from Stage 5 or impose additional restrictions as some rumored he would do after winning Tuesday’s election.

Holcomb said the decisions the state makes have “zero, zip, zilch, nothing, nada – I don’t know how to say any clearer- to do with politics or campaigning.”

He said his only campaign is to save lives, and he gets daily and weekly reminders about how far the state still has to go in slowing the virus.

He urged Hoosiers to social distance, wear masks and focus on hand hygiene as effective and inexpensive tools to keep schools and businesses open and allowing health care systems to take care of every Hoosier’s needs, COVID or otherwise. He said he wants to not only keep Indiana’s economy going but growing.

However, Holcomb said the state will continue to take a localized approach to surges wherever they are in Indiana and is paying attention to each county’s numbers. About 400 Indiana National Guard personnel have been deployed into communities to help at long-term care facilities, and about 900 more are being prepared for those roles.

Box said Indiana has had a 200 percent increase in cases from Sept. 15 to Oct. 25, and hospital admissions are at the highest level since pandemic began, with 1,897 Hoosiers hospitalized with confirmed or suspected COVID, straining their staffs and resources.

Some health systems are rearranging elective procedures as they did in the spring to meet staffing challenges. Hoosiers with health care experience are encouraged to join a health care work reserve.

Box said she wants health care workers to know “we see you and we hear you,” and the public can simply show respect to health care workers by masking, washing hands and social distancing.

Box also said 701 Hoosiers died in October from COVID. While 551 of them were 70 or older, nearly two dozen of the deaths were those younger than 50, with most of those deaths coming in the last two weeks. She reminded residents that COVID doesn’t care what age a person is.

The only tools the county has to slow the spread of COVID are masking, frequent hand washing and avoiding large gatherings until a vaccine is available, White said.

White said it’s time to make a “firm recommendation” to community members and local leaders to support wearing masks and following federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state recommendations.

White uses the SMASH COVID acronym with key letters: Social distance, Mask, Avoid large crowds; Sick? Stay home; and Handwash frequently.

Area counties

Union County now has a weekly score of 2.5 as well. One of the state’s smallest counties, it has had 151 cases and 0 deaths.

Henry and Randolph counties both have a weekly score of 2. Henry County, with 1,674 cases and 30 deaths, has been flagged for a large number of its weekly cases coming from congregate settings. Randolph County has had 606 cases and 12 deaths.

Franklin County, which had many of its cases early in the year, has the region’s best weekly score at 1.5. It has had 426 cases and 26 deaths.


How and where to get a test

Christine Stinson, Wayne County Health Department executive director, said those getting tests from county health departments or OptumServe sites should hear results within four days, and if not, they should call their testing site to check. She said typically the county’s labs result in 48 hours, just like OptumServe. Stinson said they all use the same labs.

Stinson said OptumServe also experiences lab issues where results will take closer to 4 days compared to 48 hours.

The former Elder-Beerman store is seeing more than 200 residents per day for tests, while the Cambridge City site sees between 50-100 per day.

“We encourage people to be tested,” Stinson said. “Regardless of where they test.”

• Cambridge City: The state-sponsored OptumServe testing site at 138 E. Main St., Cambridge City, is open from 8 a.m.-8 p.m. weekdays. Appointments are preferred at https://lhi.care/covidtesting or by phone at (888) 634-1116. Those registering a minor or who don’t have internet access should call the toll-free number. Walk-ins are welcome.

• Connersville: Free COVID tests are available in the westside parking lot of Fayette County Health Department, 401 Central Ave., Connersville. Those wanting a test should register online in advance at https://scheduling/coronavirus.in.gov, then call at (765) 825-4013 to let health care workers know they have arrived. They should stay in the vehicle and NOT enter the courthouse. Someone will come to them in the parking lot.
Tests are available from 8:30 a.m. to noon and 1-7 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays; and 8:30 a.m. to noon Saturdays.

• New Castle: A free COVID-19 drive-through testing site is now available in New Castle for ages 5 and older. Henry County Health Department and Henry Community Health administer the Indiana State Department of Health testing site.

The drive-through testing clinic is located at 1007 N.16th St. in the upper level parking lot outside of the HCH Respiratory Clinic. Enter either 14th or 16th streets to the parking lot with the driver’s side toward the building. Pre-registration is encouraged at https://scheduling.coronavirus.in.gov/. Testing hours are 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, and 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturdays.

ISDH will notify you of your results within 3 to 5 business days via text or email, but if you don’t hear from them, call (877) 826-0011 between 8 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays.

Hours for the HCH Respiratory Clinic where you can see a provider are 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday in the upper level of The Clinic at 1007 N. 16th St.

• Richmond: Wayne County Health Department is offering tests at the former Elder-Beerman store, 601 E. Main St. It is open from 8 a.m.-6 p.m. weekdays. No appointment is necessary, but pre-registration at scheduling.coronavirus.in.gov is encouraged, and will make testing go faster.

A limited supply of rapid tests are now available. Ask the registrar if you qualify when checking in for your appointment.

For a possible medical appointment, call Reid Health Respiratory Clinic hotline at 765-965-4200 (8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mon-Fri; 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sat.) for consultation and possible appointment; or log into the Reid HealthNOW virtual app for COVID-19 screening/consultation during same hours.

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Millicent Martin Emery is a reporter and editor for the Western Wayne News.