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INDIANAPOLIS– Gov. Holcomb announced Wednesday that Indiana will be directing hospitals to postpone or reschedule all non-emergency inpatient elective procedures for three weeks, as well as imposing new social gathering restrictions.

“Our nurses, doctors, and assistants are overwhelmed. They’re beyond exhausted,” the governor said. He explained the new directive will begin December 16 through January 3 in order to lighten the load of health care workers and make sure facilities are not overrun in the coming weeks. 

Dr. Tyler Stepsis, Chief of Emergency Medicine at Eskenazi Health, said the healthcare system has been scaling back elective surgeries for about two to three weeks to help manage bed capacity.

“We’ve canceled all elective surgeries that would need an inpatient stay overnight to help us with our bed capacity,” said Stepsis. “The next logical step would be cancelling all. With that being said the ones we’re doing right now still go home same day.”

Stepsis said he is empathetic to those who have or will have their non-emergent elective surgeries postponed.

“We say elective and we think oh that’s something that can be done at any point in time,” he said. “Most people are having surgery to fix something. That something has been bothering them for a long period of time.”

Stepsis said, “Here at Eskenazi we have filled pretty much every bed we can with patients. Most hospitals, us included, are talking about trying to convert spaces that aren’t patient care areas into patient care areas so we can care for more people.”

At IU Health West Hospital in Hendricks County, an area with a 17.56% seven-day all tests positivity rate, Kapri Ames, Associate Chief Nursing Officer, said, “Since Thanksgiving we’ve definitely seen a drastic incline of cases and right now within IU West Hospital here in Avon we’re running about 38 COVID positive patients.”

She said the hospital is running about a 78% intensive care bed utilization across their system right now, and about a 40% ventilator usage. “We’re certainly using a lot of our resources but still capable of managing the scene that’s at hand for us.”

“What we’re really asking folks to do is be mindful of large gatherings. A lot of this has been linked back to large gatherings,” said Ames.

Both health officials and state leaders encourage people to continue visiting emergency departments if they have an urgent or emergent medical issue.

“We are still open ready to treat across our system, all of our emergency departments,” said Ames. “We want to make sure that especially for things like strokes and heart attacks, that folks are coming in and seeking the treatment they need, so we can continue to save lives.”

“What we found with the beginning of this pandemic is that delaying care leads to poor outcomes,” Stepsis said. “The hard part is is that when you have a perceived emergency, we’re not really sure if you have something that’s going to cause life-threatening illness or even death so we prefer you actually come get seen.”

“Most, if not all, emergency departments have taken great care in trying to coordinate where we see potential COVID patients and where we see regular patients.”

“One thing that all of the healthcare facilities would ask at this time is continued support from the community. Not only being responsible with our own personal practices but also to reach out to support their neighbors, family, friends, local hospitals,” said Ames. “There was a lot of attention and community outreach in the spring but we’re not seeing that this time and the teams are still tired.  They’re still doing valiant work without a lot of the fanfare to keep them fueled.”

Other restrictions announced during Wednesday’s press conference:

Starting this weekend, social gatherings will be capped based on each county’s status in the ISDH metric map (25 red, 50 orange, 100 yellow, 250 blue) – local health departments are not allowed to grant exceptions.

K-12 extracurricular activities and co-curricular activities can continue but attendance is limited to participants, support personnel and parents/guardians with their minor children for counties in red.

College and professional sports may continue with participants, support personnel and family members, and a local health department can approve a plan for fan attendance of up to 25% capacity.

Holcomb opened the weekly coronavirus briefing by stating “the State of Indiana is on fire” based on the amount of red counties on the state’s color-coded map, and said if you have a serious medical condition, you should go see your doctor now.

Here is a side-by-side comparison of the state’s color-coded county map from last week to this week:

Holcomb and State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box said Hoosiers should focus on these 10 things as we continue to navigate the pandemic:

  1. Limit the size of gatherings based on the new metric restrictions
  2. Pause non-emergent inpatient procedures in hospitals to free up hospital beds
  3. Follow the mask mandate
  4. Keep 6 feet from others while masking up whether social-distanced or not
  5. Wash hands throughout the day
  6. Get tested if you are sick or symptomatic
  7. Stay home and isolate if you test positive for COVID-19
  8. Employers should talk to employees about best practices outside of work
  9. Donate blood and donate to food pantries if you are able
  10. Stay informed about vaccine distribution in 2021

Until a large portion of Indiana is vaccinated, which will take many months after distribution starts, Dr. Box said Hoosiers need to stay the course — mask up, stay socially distanced, wash your hands and stay home if you are sick.

“We’re all fighting a common enemy which is the virus. We’re not trying to fight each other. So if we can all do our part, wear a mask, stay distant when we can and wash our hands, we can help mitigate the spread of this virus,” said Stepsis.

Wednesday afternoon, the Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH) reported an additional 5,853 cases and 98 additional deaths. All of Indiana’s counties are now in either orange or red on the state’s color-coded county map.

As an emergency authorization for a vaccine nears, ISDH Chief Medical Officer Dr. Lindsay Weaver said the anticipated approval of the Pfizer vaccine Thursday “signals the beginning of the end of this pandemic,” but noted that Indiana still has a long way to go. 

Dr. Weaver expects the first doses to arrive next week and said they will go to frontline health care workers with additional doses expected weekly. She said CVS and Walgreens will help distribute these vaccines at long-term care facilities.

Dr. Weaver reminded Hoosiers that Pfizer’s vaccine is two-doses and said it’s imperative that those getting the vaccine get that second dose. She added that people who have already gotten COVID-19 and recovered are still being recommended to get the vaccine.

The governor was also joined by Indiana Chamber of Commerce CEO Kevin Brinegar and Indiana Manufacturers Association CEO Brian Burton.

Here is a look at how Indiana’s color-coded COVID-19 map has changed over the past several months: