Will Indiana deliver on controlling new COVID-19 infections?

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Indiana Gov. Holcomb

As state reopens, governor and health officials say increased testing and contact tracing are the solutions

By The 411 News

In late February, as the U.S. recognized the impending coronavirus pandemic, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases said about the virus spread, “It’s not so much a question of if this will happen anymore, but rather more a question of exactly when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illness.”

Both questions have been answered today, as the COVID-19 disease spawn- ed by the coronavirus has caused the deaths of 80,000-plus U.S. residents with more than one million infected.

Of the U.S. infections, it is known that only a small portion will come down with a severe respiratory or pneumonia-like illness. Most will suffer only flu-like symptoms because their immune system will fight off the disease. The disease can turn deadly for those who come to a hospital with difficulty breathing and they have other health problems like asthma, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and obesity. Their treatment will be much more complicated.

States are now relaxing restrictions that closed down all but essential businesses and operations that slowed the spread of the disease so it would not overwhelm health systems. That has worked, but with huge financial costs. Shutting down the nation’s economy brought unemployment levels not seen since the Depression of the 1930s.

The dilemma the nation faces with reopening the economy is what effect the high number of infected individuals and new infections will have on more spread of the disease.

If new infections take an upturn and are not contained or controlled, the cycle of high hospital admissions and high deaths will reappear.

In Wuhan, China where the virus began, health officials used quarantines, isolations, and contact tracing to reduce new infections.

Indiana’s 14 consecutive days of decreasing numbers of new infections during the shutdown allowed it to get on the path to reopening.

Since relaxing restrictions in Indiana on May 4, all states are paying close attention to their new infection numbers. Increased testing and contact tracing are methods Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb and State Health Commissioner Kristina Box say they will provide to further help slow the spread of COVID-19. Testing can also reveal people who are infected but have no symptoms and contribute to spreading the disease.

“But have you seen or heard anybody on the county, state, or federal level say they have sent out an army of contact tracers?” asked Charlie Brown, Lake County Councilman and former Indiana State Representative.

“There isn’t a national plan at all for contact tracing. It takes a humongous effort. People need to be trained and it’s a sensitive issue, involving privacy. It is so sad, the mixed messages the public is receiving,” Brown said.

The nation’s first quarantine center was set up in Kent, WA, about 25 miles south of the Life Center Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Kirkland, WA. In early March, the rehab center was the nation’s first incidence of mass coronavirus infections, leading to the deaths of 16 rehab residents.

King County officials purchased the Econo Lodge Motel in Kent to house people at risk of developing an illness after having been exposed to the COVID-19 virus, but were not yet showing symptoms. Others there were individuals who had tested positive for the virus but were unable to isolate at home. The center also housed those who had been treated at a hospital and discharged and no longer required hospitalization but still required isolation.

Neighborhood fears surfaced when King County was negotiating the purchase to house COVID-19 patients. Thousands signed an online petition to move the facility to a less populated area. The mayor of Kent spoke out against it.

By late March, Chicago had become one of the nation’s largest virus hotspots. Following examples of other major cities, the city’s administration began reserving hotels to serve as quarantine centers.

Samir Mayekar, the deputy mayor for neighborhood and economic development in Chicago said, “Quarantine and isolation units are going to be used in every city across the country eventually; in their own way, shape and form.”

New Orleans targeted its homeless population to quarantine in hotels. Homeless advocates say the hotels offer an especially vulnerable population the means to self-isolate during the pandemic.

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