While You Were Sleeping: Coronavirus updates for October 30

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

Here’s a look:

Business in the time of COVID-19. Downtown Indianapolis is set to usher in new restaurants and conventions this spring amid a wave of uncertainty surrounding rising COVID-19 numbers in Marion County.

“We’re hoping that this positivity rate will very soon slow down and plateau,” said Dr. Virginia Caine, Marion County Public Health Director.

The county dipped below a 5% positivity rating in September, only to see it rise past 7% now. In a news conference, Mayor Joe Hogsett floated the idea of further restrictions should the rate hit double digits.

“Today we are beneath the 10% positivity rate that acted as a threshold for our early mitigating efforts. However, we know enough about this virus to say with certainty if we do not take it seriously, our current health orders and our own personal responsibilities as citizens, then this rate will continue to go up,” he said. “More of our neighbors will continue to get sick, some will die, and the only options available to us may be to return to more stringent mitigation efforts.”

Downtown Indy Inc. says twelve restaurants have already closed downtown due to restrictions and a lack of conventions. Popular pizza spot King Dough will be closing their patio space next week and turning to carryout and delivery only.

This is the first time they will be doing their own delivery. It helps them escape some of the strains put on companies by delivery services like Grub Hub, while giving work to more of their employees. It also helps the restaurant avoid any further impact from potential restrictions.

“Our dining room is already so small, we can only fit so many people in here safely with the current restrictions,” explained Alicia Sweet, co-owner of King Dough, “We are just trying to make ends meet, and keep everyone happy, healthy, and well-fed.”

The Sweets and Snacks convention just announced they will move from Chicago to Indy this spring. Many downtown businesses lean on convention-goers to support their businesses.

“It is a light at the end of the tunnel as far as bringing in more revenue into our city,” says Sweet.

Grim milestone. Indiana hit a grim milestone this week, surpassing 4,000 COVID-19 deaths.

The Indiana State Department of Health reported 33 additional deaths in its Thursday data. Deaths have been on the rise as coronavirus cases have increased across the state in recent weeks.

The total number of COVID-19 deaths in the state has reached 4,024. There are an additional 236 “probable” COVID-19 deaths, according to the department.

The state reported more than 3,000 total cases for the first time Thursday, with 3,649 cases. It was the highest single-day reporting total since the pandemic began, with those cases reported between Oct. 24 and Oct. 28.

More stringent measures? Tougher restrictive measures could be on the way in Marion County if the coronavirus pandemic continues to get worse.

That’s according to Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett and Marion County Public Health Department Director Dr. Virginia Caine.

Hogsett said the city would consider rolling back some of the eased restrictions if the positivity rate reaches double digits.

Right now, Marion County’s positivity rate is near 7%, Caine said, after dipping below 5% at the end of September. Since then, the number of cases in Marion County has increased—and so has the positivity rate.

With winter weather on the way, Halloween days away, and thousands voting early for the upcoming election, Hogsett said personal coronavirus mitigation measures are imperative.

“Continue wearing masks in public. Wear masks when in public and wear them properly,” Hogsett said.

Caine emphasized mask wearing, social distancing and the avoidance of large crowds. Both pleaded for people to participate in the contact tracing program.

The mayor said he and other leaders are keeping a close eye on cases, positivity rates and deaths. With more people staying inside as the weather turns colder, he’s concerned the pandemic may worsen.

“More of our neighbors will get sick. Some will die,” he said of the pandemic. “The only option available to us may be to return to more stringent mitigation efforts.”

IU testing labs. As colleges and universities across the country take steps to test thousands of COVID-19 samples each week, Indiana University will soon open its own COVID-19 testing labs.

Experts say widespread testing might be the key to preventing a COVID-19 outbreak on campus.

IUPUI students Sophia Zavala and Lizbeth Hermandez have had already a total of 10 COVID tests.

“It makes the community safer,” said Zavala.

And with new testing labs coming to campus, they’re set to get many more.

“School is hard and especially during a pandemic,” said Hermandez. “I think they’ve done a great job.”

IU will soon operate three of its own COVID-19 testing labs: one in Bloomington and two in Indianapolis. As the director of surveillance and mitigation, Aaron Carroll calls it a critical step.

“Once we get the labs going and working, we’ll likely ramp up our IUPUI and Bloomington testing,” said Carroll during the weekly Keeping us Healthy webinar for IU students and staff.

The testing sites will track and process thousands of results for students and staff.  The goal is 5,000 tests per day to start. IU is covering the cost.

“What matters more is how many people you can test, how often you can test them and how quickly you can get the results back,” explained Carroll, “It’s our hope with the labs coming online all three of those will go up.”

“Universities that tested every student weekly have about 90% less infections,” said Dr. Deborah Birx, a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

Birx has praised universities for their aggressive testing strategies.

“With weekly testing and finding that symptomatic individual, they’ve been able to really prevent ongoing spread,” she added.

For IU, the hope is the new labs will make the testing process faster as the Indiana surge continues.

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