Despite a recent spike in COVID-19 cases in Indiana and across the country, Monroe County is rated low for COVID-19 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Counties are classified based on the number of cases in the area and the impact on local hospitals.
The reinfection rate of COVID-19 cases in Monroe County has increased to 7.7% from May 12-19, according to the Indiana State Department of Health. Only reinfections after September 1, 2021 are included in the data.
More on COVID-19:Monroe County COVID Cases Down 24%; Indiana cases up 20.7%
Monroe County Department of Health Administrator Penny Caudill said as long as hospital admissions remain low, so will the community level. While the virus is circulating at a higher rate, most people are suffering from mild illness, she said.
The Department of Health’s three main goals are to prevent deaths, prevent hospital admissions and keep transmission rates as low as possible, Caudill said.
“COVID-19 is not going away,” she said. “We will continue to deal with it.”
One of the most important ways to prevent further spread is to keep people informed, Caudill said. Residents should assess their need for masks, when to get tested and when to quarantine or isolate, she said, to reduce the spread.
“We are in this together, and by each of us doing our part to protect ourselves and those around us, we can make our community safer,” she said.
The Monroe County Health Department, along with other health departments, has received at-home testing kits to distribute to the community. Vaccines are available at the Monroe County Public Health Clinic as well as area pharmacies.
What about variants and a mask requirement?
Caudill said if Monroe County should reach a high level of community, mask mandates could be considered. But it can be avoided if local residents take precautions.
“I think it’s fair to say that almost everyone would like to never have to go back to a mandate,” she said. “But that doesn’t mean the situation doesn’t call for it.”
Residents can best protect themselves by getting all recommended COVID-19 vaccinations, she said.
“No vaccine is perfect,” she said. “But they’re really effective.”
Residents can receive community-level updates through the Monroe County Citizen Alert System.
New variants like the BA.4 and BA.5 have started to spread in Europe, but not much in the US, Caudill said. While the variants are more transmissible, they are less severe.
“The best way to avoid variants is that we all get vaccinated,” she said.
Hospital managing cases for now
Tom Hrisomalos, infectious diseases doctor at IU Health Bloomington, said the recent increase in cases has not affected IU hospitals significantly.
Due to a lack of data, it is difficult to estimate how big this wave could be, he said. For example, home tests are not included in the case count because they are not reported.
Many hospitalized COVID-19 cases are diagnosed accidentally, Hrisomalos said. Patients who come for any other reason can test positive for COVID-19.
Higher levels of immunity in the population of people who have had or been vaccinated with COVID-19 also help reduce the severity of the spread.
“Some of the milder diseases that we’re seeing are due to increased immunity in the population, and that’s a good thing,” he said.
Hrisomalos said he was concerned that new variants would continue to develop.
“I’m afraid we’re probably going to see some level of new viruses emerging for quite a while,” he said.
Concerns about COVID reinfection
Graham McKeen, IU associate university director for public and environmental health, said he expected hospitalizations and deaths to increase due to the rising number of infections.
“This virus has evolved tremendously and is much more contagious than it used to be,” he said. “We’re climbing that ladder of contagion very quickly.”
The possibility of reinfecting yourself with COVID-19 is a big concern, McKeen said. The best way to interrupt these transmissions is to wear effective filtering masks indoors, especially in crowded environments, he said.
The reduced number of IU students in Monroe County over the summer will help reduce the overall number of cases, McKeen said. But the level of infection for those who stay is still increasing.
Monroe County and Tippecanoe County, where Purdue University is located, have had the highest number of cases recently. McKeen said this was likely due to the universities and the travel involved.
McKeen said IU will be offering drop-off PCR testing through the end of May and will move to antigen testing after that. Other testing sites and home tests can be found or ordered on the ISDH website. Home tests are also available from a number of retail pharmacies. The Covid Clinic is also available in the College Mall parking lot.
More: COVID testing outside of the College Mall is different than other options. Here’s what’s different.
IU continues to conduct contact tracing, daily case investigations, outbreak investigations and more to help prevent the spread, McKeen said.
“People need to be aware that this is a much more contagious virus than we were treating it just a few months ago and it’s not over yet,” he said. “There are still many benefits to minimizing and reducing the spread.”
Luzane Draughon can be reached at [email protected]