8/3/2020 Board of Health, Dr. Jeremy Adler

County Health Officer Dr. Jeremy Adler, right, and board member John Thomas watch as the board discusses the county's COVID-19 cases.

Officials who planned for capacity restrictions on businesses once Tippecanoe County’s positivity rate reaches 10% warn the rate could reach that number by this week.

The positivity rate was 8.9% as of Nov. 11, according to the Indiana State Department of Health. The rate is reported with a six-day lag. If the rate reaches 10%, bars must limit indoor capacity to 25%, restaurants must operate at half-capacity and other businesses must also restrict customers.

“I would not be surprised if we hit 10% in the next few days, certainly within a week,” said county health officer Jeremy Adler. “When this happens, a 48-hour notice will be given so businesses have time to adjust to the new guidelines.”

The county’s positivity rate must dip below 10% for 14 consecutive days for the restrictions to be lifted on bars and restaurants, according to Adler’s executive order, which took effect Wednesday. Limits on retailers and fitness centers will remain until lifted by the county.

Of the cumulative 7,153 cases the county has reported, half have come in the last 28 days. More than 1,300 have been recorded in the last seven days. The seven-day average of 54 new cases each day observed on Oct. 16 has spiked to an average of 207.

A new death Wednesday brought the county’s death toll to 24.

“To use the phrase skyrocketing I think would be accurate,” Adler said. “We’ve had some very high numbers recently. On Nov. 13, we saw our highest single daily number of new cases at 289.”

Officials also expressed concern about overwhelmed testing centers and the rising numbers of people in local hospitals.

People visiting OptumServe sites, which are operated by the Indiana State Department of Health, have experienced longer wait times, Adler said. Results have also taken additional days to be returned.

“We are hopeful that we are able to get another state department of health site here locally soon,” Adler said.

The number of hospitalizations per week peaked at 93 this week, with 23 of those involving patients in intensive-care units.

IU Health Arnett has 56 patients positive with COVID-19, according to Dr. James Bien, the chief medical officer at the hospital. IU Health is serving another half-dozen patients in the surrounding area.

“Our steady state number before was five to eight patients, so we’re seven- to 10-fold more than that right now,” Bien said. “We are confronting a volume challenge that’s being complicated by a staffing challenge.”

Staffing shortages have been seen in testing centers and hospitals alike. Bien said an ambulance bay scheduled to open Wednesday morning was canceled due to staffing shortages.

Many doctors have to care for their own families, and the number of them available at any given time is not large enough to handle the volume of people, Bien said.

As thousands of Purdue students prepare to depart for home counties, Adler said he doesn’t expect the county to be relieved of its spike in case numbers.

At the beginning of the school year, nearly two-thirds of cases were attributed to Purdue, he said. Now the majority of cases come from outside the University community.

“What we’ve noticed here in the last month or so is that the proportion of our total cases in our county attributable to Purdue has been shrinking,” Adler said. “I think there will definitely be an impact from Purdue students leaving, but it won’t be a big impact.”

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