Health

Indiana has again broken its record for new daily cases of COVID-19, and Southern Indiana health officials are concerned about the state’s trajectory under the state’s Stage 5 of reopening.

The Indiana State Department of Health reported 1,960 new cases Thursday, the highest total since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in March. It breaks the state’s previous record of 1,937 that was set less than a week ago.

“After every stage, we’ve seen a bump in cases,” said Floyd County Health Officer Tom Harris. “And I think it sort of speaks for itself. But the bump with Stage 5 has been significant.”

Indiana entered Stage 5, the final stage of its reopening plan, on Sept. 26. In the nearly three weeks since, case totals have reached record-breaking levels and hospitalizations are on the rise.

That uptick has also hit local counties. Clark and Floyd counties both had their second-highest daily totals on Oct. 9, with 46 and 32 cases, respectively. Clark County has had a total of 2,690 cases, and Floyd has had 1,644.

“I have significant concerns about where we’re headed,” Harris said. “The rate this week, it had increased over 10%…That previous week had been 6.69%. So we almost doubled the number of cases in percentage positive rate in the last week. Clearly, that’s a concern.”

Clark County Health Officer Eric Yazel attributed the rise in part to “COVID-19 fatigue,” and the perception that entering Stage 5 of reopening means the risk is not as high as before.

“A lot of the things that we were concerned about have kind of panned out, to be honest with you,” said Clark County Health Officer Eric Yazel.

“When I look at Stage 5, the changes from Stage 4 are really pretty minimal, especially with the mask mandate in place, and social distancing and stuff. But I think it’s more of a perception thing, and I think when we moved to Stage 5, and it’d be in the last stage, there’s kind of a, ‘We’re done,’ sort of mentality with that.”

Cases identified thus far have been sporadic, with no mass testing event leading to an increase in positives. Harris did point to a few events that recently took place in New Albany that could lead to spread.

Harvest Homecoming, New Albany’s annual fall festival, was canceled this year, but many in the city held unofficial events. Bars in the downtown area held a “bar walk,” that saw people visit several establishments without masks.

While Harris did not identify specific steps he would take to further prevent spread under Stage 5, he said too much attention is being given to the economic side of the process.

“I think that in this case, the intent is to get people back to work to create revenue to improve the economy,” Harris said. “I’m worried that there’s an imbalance of that economic stress compared to the human personal health risk. My lowly input on it would be that the balance is swung too much in the economic range, and not doing enough to support the human side of it to keep people alive.”

Some Southern Indiana school districts are currently on fall break. Both health officers are aware of people in the area visiting beaches in states like Florida, which have been hotspots for the disease.

In the coming weeks, they expect many people under the age of 18 and their families to be tested.

“I’m very curious on what the next couple of weeks are going to look like, the effect of the fall break traveling. You’re starting to get some Halloween parties and things like that. The one thing about Indiana moving from Stage 4 to Stage 5 is it does put a lot of individual responsibility on everyone to make their decisions,” Yazel said.  

“And we just want to stress to know your own risk profile, and act accordingly and make good decisions, especially if you’re high risk or you frequently encounter those who are high risk.”

Indiana has had 141,212 cases since the pandemic started. Over 3,600 Hoosiers have died from the disease.

John Boyle covers southern Indiana communities and health for WFPL News. He is a Report for America Corps member.