While You Were Sleeping: Coronavirus updates for October 13

Coronavirus

INDIANAPOLIS — There were several developments in the coronavirus pandemic that you may have missed overnight.

Here’s a look:

Second wave? The United States is inching closer to averaging 50,000 new coronavirus cases each day — a mark the country hasn’t seen since mid August.

COVID-19 cases have been steadily increasing since September 12. As of Monday, the 7-day average in case increases was 15% as more than 40 states were labeled as having a high or increasing number of infections, according to the New York Times.

This comes as record-high daily cases hit several European countries. Spain declared a state of emergency for Madrid amid increasing tensions between local and national authorities over virus containment measures. Germany offered up soldiers to help with contact tracing in newly flaring hotspots. Italy mandated masks outdoors and warned that for the first time since the country became the European epicenter of the pandemic, the health system was facing “significant critical issues” as hospitals fill up.

So is this the “second wave” or coronavirus cases everyone has been talking about? Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert, says no.

“Given the fact that we have never got down to a good baseline, we are still in the first wave,” Fauci told CNN a couple weeks ago.

During the 1918 pandemic, the number of cases plummeted before exploding during the colder months later in the year.

“Rather than say, ‘A second wave,’ why don’t we say, ‘Are we prepared for the challenge of the fall and the winter?’” Fauci said.

Since the height of the coronavirus pandemic this past spring, experts have been warning about a second spike likely to hit the U.S. before the end of 2020. According to most experts, this could arrive as early as late October and hit its peak in December.

Vaccine study halted. A late-stage study of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate has been paused while the company investigates whether a study participant’s “unexplained illness” is related to the shot.

The company said in a statement Monday evening that illnesses, accidents and other so-called adverse events “are an expected part of any clinical study, especially large studies,” but that its physicians and a safety monitoring panel would try to determine what might have caused the illness.

The pause is at least the second such hold to occur among several vaccines that have reached large-scale final tests in the U.S.

The company declined to reveal any more details about the illness, citing the participant’s privacy.

Temporary stoppages of large medical studies are relatively common. Few are made public in typical drug trials, but the work to make a coronavirus vaccine has raised the stakes on these kinds of complications.

COVID-19 and long-term care facilities. As Indiana sees more COVID-19 cases, long-term care facilities are battling an increase as well, with some centers reporting more than 70% of their residents are positive for the virus.

Roughly 55% of COVID-19 deaths in Indiana are attributed to residents of long-term care facilities. According to the state’s coronavirus dashboard, positive cases inside these centers began trending down in May and into the summer, but now the trend is going in the wrong direction.

This concerning uptick in COVID-19 cases inside long-term care facilities does not surprise Zach Cattell, president of the Indiana Health Care Association. IHCA is the group that represents these centers.

“We see COVID spread happen in long-term care communities when there is spread taking place in the community,” Cattell said.

The only county in “red” on the state’s COVID-19 dashboard on Monday was Pike County. According to Trilogy Health Services, the company who operates Amber Manor Care Center in Pike County, 75% of residents were positive for COVID-19 on Monday, and 30% of employees also had coronavirus.

Over in Logansport, Trilogy Health Services said 45 out of 64 residents at WoodBridge Health Campus were COVID-19 positive.

A spokesperson for Trilogy Health Services said they are in frequent communication with local health departments and the Indiana State Department of Health as they follow applicable federal, state and local public health guidelines.

Per state and local guidance, the spokesperson said they have suspended visits at Amber Manor Care Center and WoodBridge Health Campus, with the exception of those whose loved ones are receiving end-of-life care. They have also suspended admissions to these campuses. The facilities are increasing the frequency at which they test employees and residents for COVID-19.

“We remain wholly committed to caring for and supporting our country’s most vulnerable population. Our campus teams will continue to work tirelessly to provide excellent clinical care and to treat every resident who calls our communities home with the utmost compassion during these difficult times,” said Brittany Hanson, director of communications for Trilogy Health Services.

The state’s dashboard for long-term care shows a snapshot of COVID-19 cases impacting this vulnerable population. On September 10, the 7-day moving average for positive cases among residents was 24. It jumped to 57 on September 30.

The trend is going up for cases among long-term care staff too. On September 10, the dashboard showed the 7-day moving average for staff was 22 positive cases. It was 41 on September 30.

Opening delayed. Several factors related to the increasing number of COVID-19 cases prompted Franklin Community Schools officials to delay the next phase of their plan to reopen school buildings.

“Our cases are going up,” said FCS Superintendent Dr. David Clendening. “From Friday, we’ve had three more cases.”

“Over the past several weeks in Johnson County, our numbers are starting to go up for positivity rate,” Clendening continued. “Given that information, I wanted to just hit pause for two more weeks and have us start back on November 2nd.”

Franklin Community Schools was the only Johnson County district to start the school year on a hybrid schedule, with students dividing their learning between in-person classes and virtual e-learning. The district had planned to bring middle and high school students back into the buildings four days a week starting Oct. 19. However, that move has been pushed back to Nov. 2.

Clendening said the decision was also based on other factors, including how many students seem to be struggling with their work and staying engaged, as well as the district’s ability to find substitute bus drivers and teachers.

Clendening said he is also concerned about how fall break travel could impact the next couple weeks. Although Franklin’s fall break doesn’t start until Thursday, he said some families are already traveling since e-learning can be done from anywhere.

“We have a lot of parents and community out and going to different places, and I understand that,” Clendening said. “But we also know that there is that chance of getting the virus.”

Johnson County Health Department Director Betsy Swearingen said warnings about fall break travel are warranted right now.

“If you are awaiting results from a COVID test, you should be at home,” Swearingen said. “You should not be out traveling.”

Swearingen said recent contact tracing has revealed several cases of Hoosiers being directly affected by bad travel decisions.

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