While You Were Sleeping: Coronavirus updates for October 28


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

Here’s a look:

COVID-19 vaccine. The three candidates for Indiana governor held their final debate Tuesday night, with the candidates facing a question about the COVID-19 vaccine.

Would they mandate that all Hoosiers get the vaccine when it’s ready?

Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb said he wouldn’t mandate a vaccine but would encourage it when it is safe and went through proper approval.

“We want to make sure that we’re ready to rock and roll when it does come to Indiana, getting it out to the front line, getting it out to the most vulnerable, getting it out to our schools and long-term care centers,” Holcomb said.

Libertarian Donald Rainwater argued that any vaccine will have side effects and health risks. He said it should be up to the individual to weigh those risks.

“It must be a citizen’s responsibility to determine what level of risk they’re willing to take what level of risk they are willing to put their children under and government should not be involved in that decision,” Rainwater said.

Democrat Woody Myers did not take a side in requiring a vaccine but said immunizations have been cost-effective life savers for years and hoped one would be available soon.

“We don’t know the full side-effect profiles yet and we don’t know all of those restrictions, but they are going to be coming,” Myers said.

Pandemic impact on healthcare workers. A new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows most healthcare workers hospitalized with coronavirus are nurses, and the vast majority of them had underlying health conditions.

The study collected data from 13 sites across the country from March 1 to May 31 and examined medical records for about 6,700 patients. The study found that nearly 6% of people hospitalized with COVID-19 were healthcare workers. Among that group, more than 36% were nurses.

“I figured it would be large,” said Johnson Memorial Health President and CEO Dr. David Dunkle. “Maybe not 36%, but it makes sense because, again, nurses unfortunately don’t get to work from home. They’re on the frontlines.”

Among the healthcare workers who required hospital treatment for COVID-19, the study found 89% of them had one or more underlying health conditions. The most common health conditions were obesity at 73%, hypertension at 41% and diabetes at 31%.

Dunkle said the findings should be a sobering reminder to everyone, not just health care workers, about the need to maintain the healthiest lifestyle possible.

“Unfortunately, this disease has disproportionately picked on people with those underlying conditions,” Dunkle said. “You do have to watch your weight. You have to stay healthy. If you are diabetic, control that diabetes. If you’re hypertensive, take your medicine.”

“Anybody who has underlying health conditions, this disease really affects them badly,” said William Mink, RN.  

Mink serves as Johnson Memorial Health’s quality manager and patient safety officer. He says the study also reinforces the need for even the healthiest Hoosiers to take precautions against catching and spreading the virus.

“Even if you’re healthy, well you might pass it on to somebody who’s not so healthy,” Mink said. “You might have other people in your family who have those underlying health conditions, so you need to watch out for them too.”

Mink said Johnson Memorial has not had any employees who required hospitalization for COVID-19. However, the hospital has had employees get infected. Officials believe the employees contracted the virus outside the hospital.

COVID-19 in schools. Middle school students in Pike Township are moving to a hybrid learning model starting on Monday, and the district will remain in such a model until the county’s positivity rate is at or below 5.4% for at least two weeks.

That is a metric the district set in place before the school year started. It is more strict than the guidance the Marion County Public Health Department released about a month ago. The department says middle schools can remain in-person full time as long as the positivity rate is below 11%.

“We have three middle schools that have 1,000 or nearly 1,000 students. If we were smaller, we would be able to manage the capacity,” said Flora Reichanadter, superintendent of MSD of Pike Township.

According to the latest data from county health department, the average COVID-19 all-test positivity rate was 4.9% on October 5. It jumped to 7.1% on October 16. During the same time period, the 7-day average of new daily cases went from 126.4 cases to 178.7 cases.

“As the data started to climb, we then immediately notified our parents,” said Reichanadter.

Decatur Middle School was planning to return to in-person soon because of the county’s new guidance, but the district is placing that on hold for now.

“The plans made three weeks ago may not be good plans now,” said Matt Prusiecki, superintendent of MSD Decatur Township. “I need some support and confidence from the board of health that this is the right thing to do.”

The district has not reported a single case involving its middle school students as they remain on a hybrid model. The state’s COVID-19 dashboard shows less than five cases involving staff and less than five cases involving teachers at the Decatur Middle School.

Germany lockdown? German Chancellor Angela Merkel is pressing for a partial lockdown as the number of newly recorded infections in the country hit another record high Wednesday.

The Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s disease control agency, said 14,964 new cases were recorded across the country in the past days, taking the total since the start of the outbreak to 449,275. Germany also saw a further 27 COVID-related deaths, raising its overall death toll to 10,098.

Merkel meets Wednesday with the governors of Germany’s 16 states and senior government officials say she will demand they introduce measures to drastically reduce social contacts, echoing her repeated public appeals to citizens over the past two weeks that have so far not resulted in a drop in new cases.

Owners of restaurants and bars planned to stage a protest over fears that their establishments will be closed for several weeks, further hurting Germany’s already ailing hospitality industry.

Schools across Germany have also been preparing to shift at least some of their teaching online, in anticipation of possible partial closures.

Officials say Germany, which has coped with the outbreak better than many of its neighboring European countries, is beginning to lose control of the situation, with local health authorities unable to trace contacts of those infected and some hospitals refusing to take in new patients.

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