INDIANAPOLIS — On the same day Indiana surpassed 6,000 COVID-19 deaths, health officials are reacting to the news that the Hoosier state had the highest per-capita infection rate in the nation during the week after Thanksgiving.
According to data compiled on the Covid Tracking Project website, Indiana had a daily average of 1,025 COVID-19 cases per 1 million people from November 30 to December 6. The numbers followed weeks of warnings from state and federal health officials about a post-Thanksgiving surge.
“It is exactly what they forewarned was going to happen,” said Johnson County Health Director Betsy Swearingen. “I’m not surprised. People are still out and about, hoping that if they continue to live their life, this too shall pass, and it’s going to take some time.”
Doctor Brian Dixon, director of public health informatics at the Regenstrief Institute, agrees the numbers are not surprising.
“We actually were seeing that trend before the holiday,” Dr. Dixon said. “We were kind of creeping up in the rankings, if you will. Not that this is really a competition that we want to win.”
Swearingen and Dixon each attribute Indiana’s high infection rate to “pandemic fatigue.”
“What’s happened is, I think, some people have let their guard down,” Dixon said. “Not only during Thanksgiving but even prior to that.”
“They had their large family gatherings,” Swearingen said. “They went out and about, and now we’re going to pay the price.
“We have to continue to social distance, we have to continue to wear a mask, we have to continue to practice safe hygiene. I know it stinks, it does. Everybody’s tired of hearing it.”
Dixon added that Indiana has not yet seen the highest point of the post-Thanksgiving surge that health officials have warned about.
“We’re kind of on track to hit 7,000 deaths by the new year,” he said. “We would anticipate seeing increasing numbers of cases in the next couple weeks, along with more hospitalizations, and frankly, more deaths.”
In the meantime, several counties are watching their 7-day positivity rates rise above 15%, which could trigger more counties being designated level “Red” on the state’s county-by-county map.
“I think we can expect probably not only to hear that more counties have flipped over into the Red zone,” Dixon predicted, “but then we may be hearing from local health leaders that we might need to be thinking about new restrictions to be put in place so that we can get the virus under control as we head into the holiday season.”
“I think it’s a high probability, based on the group gatherings and the festivities that took place,” Swearingen added.