While You Were Sleeping: Coronavirus updates for October 22

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

Here’s a look:

Protecting long-term care facilities. Gov. Eric Holcomb and Indiana State Department of Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Lindsay Weaver announced a plan to assist the surge of cases in the state’s long-term care facilities (LTCs).

The governor said despite the state’s best efforts, deaths and cases continue to mount at these facilities, which account for more than 55 percent of COVID-19 deaths. According to the Indiana Health Care Association, less than 4 percent of new COVID-19 cases in the last 30 days are from these centers.

“The pandemic has taken a real toll on the residents and the staff and both of their families. We need to initiate an even more target effort to support and protect residents where they are,” said Holcomb.

The state will be sending the Indiana National Guard to all LTCs to help with testing, reporting test results, screening employees and simple infection control practices so staff members can focus on caring for the residents. The goal is to begin November 1 in facilities experiencing positive cases before deploying to the rest of the state.

Indiana will also hire clinical staff from the healthcare reserve workforce to supplement long-term care resources. During infection control surveys in October, state officials found facilities needed help with staffing.

“All the additional measures that must be in place to protect residents from COVID does require extra time from our staff,” said Weaver. “Staff members have to isolate or quarantine because of community exposures.”

Redefining close contact. U.S. health officials redefined what counts as close contact with someone with COVID-19 to include briefer but repeated encounters.

For months, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said close contact meant spending a solid 15 minutes within 6 feet of someone who tested positive for coronavirus. On Wednesday, the CDC changed it to a total of 15 minutes or more — so shorter but repeated contacts that add up to 15 minutes over a 24-hour period now count.

The CDC advises anyone who has been in close contact with a COVID-19 patient to quarantine for two weeks.

The change may prompt health departments to do contact tracing in cases where an exposure might previously have been considered too brief, said Dr. William Schaffner, a Vanderbilt University infectious diseases expert.

It also serves as notice that the coronavirus can spread more easily than many people realize, he added.

The definition change was triggered by a study of a 20-year-old Vermont correctional officer, who was diagnosed with a coronavirus infection in August. The guard, who wore a mask and goggles, had multiple brief encounters with six transferred prisoners before test results showed they were positive. At times, the prisoners wore masks, but there were encounters in cell doorways or in a recreational room where prisoners did not have them on, the report said.

An investigation that reviewed video footage concluded the guard’s brief interactions totaled 17 minutes during an 8-hour shift.

In a statement, CDC officials said the case highlights again the importance of wearing masks to prevent transmission.

Czech Republic lockdown. Czechs had been assured it wouldn’t happen again.

But amid a record surge of coronavirus infections that’s threatening the entire health system with collapse, the Czech Republic is adopting on Thursday exactly the same massive restrictions it slapped on citizens in the spring. Prime Minister Andrej Babis had repeatedly said these measures would never return.

“We have no time to wait,” Babis explained Wednesday. “The surge is enormous.”

Babis apologized for the huge impact the restrictions will have on everyday life but said if they were not taken “our health system would collapse between Nov 7-11.”

“I apologize even for the fact that I ruled out this option in the past because I was not able to imagine it might happen,” he added. “Unfortunately, it has happened and now, above all, we have to protect the lives of our citizens.”

The measures include limits on free movement and the closure of many stores, shopping malls and hotels. They will remain in place until at least Nov 3.

The Czech Republic had initially set an example with its effective and fast response when the pandemic first struck, but failed to learn from other countries’ subsequent experiences and now faces the consequences.

As the pandemic struck slightly later than in western Europe, Czech authorities gained some breathing space. They used it to impose sweeping restrictions on daily life in March, and — unlike most other European countries — made mask-wearing obligatory in all public areas.

In April, the country was the first, with Austria, to start to ease restrictions and — again unlike most other European countries — almost completely abandoned them in the summer.

In June, thousands declared victory over the coronavirus at a big party on Prague’s medieval Charles Bridge. Babis, considered a populist leader, was jubilant and told an international conference in August that his country was the “best in COVID,” despite already growing numbers of infected people.

The atmosphere at Wednesday’s news conference, as Babis announced the new measures, was more sober.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases has risen over the past two weeks from 32.81 new cases per 100,000 people on Oct. 7 to 92.88 new cases per 100,000 people on Wednesday.

Thermal cameras in Evansville. The city of Evansville is working to protect people entering the Civic Center from the coronavirus while keeping things moving along.

The Civic Center in downtown Evansville has newly-installed thermal imaging cameras at its entrances. These cameras will automatically scan temperatures as people enter the building.

If someone’s temperature is more than 100.4 degrees an alarm will sound. Deputies will stop that person from entering and ask them to leave the building.

“What we’ve been doing is we had every day four to five part-time people taking temperatures at all of the locations. And what this does, it was able us to replace them and in time pay for this and will be in place then forever,” said Dave Rector, Evansville-Vanderburgh County City-County Building Authority said.

Rector says these scanners will allow people to enter the building without having to be stopped. There will also be hand-held thermometers at the security desk to re-check people.

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