As cases climb to record levels, experts say virus surge likely to continue

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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Allen County and the state of Indiana both set new records for the number of new daily COVID-19 cases on Thursday. The surge in cases isn’t likely to trend downward anytime soon, experts say.

“Right now we don’t see any signs of this slowing down,” said Brian Dixon, the Director of Public Health Informatics at the Regenstrief Institute, a research organization that works to improve healthcare delivery and outcomes for patients.

On Thursday, Allen County reported that 243 residents tested positive for COVID-19, which is an increase of nearly 100 cases reported on Wednesday.

To put this increase into context, in the month of September, on average, Allen County was reporting about 48 new cases in a day.

“We saw this really take off after stage five started, people started immediately moving around and going back to life as normal,” said Matthew Sutter, the Allen County Health Commissioner. “Right now the curve looks upward. So, until people change their behaviors, I don’t think that this is going to reverse anytime soon.”

Statewide, on Thursday, the Indiana Department of Health announced a record 3,649 additional Hoosiers have been diagnosed with COVID-19.

“Unless something dramatic happens such as everyone decides to voluntarily stay at home for a week or people stop sort of getting together in small groups either at work or at home or weddings,” said Dixon. “I don’t think we’re going to see a dramatic decrease in new cases.”

According to Sutter, part of the surge can be attributed to an increase in testing, as its increased by 20%.

Dixon said the increase in cases that we’re seeing now is a continuation of the increases that were first observed in the middle of September.

“What we’re seeing now is really just continuing climbing rates,” said Dixon. “It’s just people that are infected are out there infecting other people, widespread community infections, and those are driven by probably individuals not taking as many precautions as they may have taken earlier in the year.”

However, what’s perhaps more concerning than the surge in cases, is the increase in hospitalizations it’s caused. According to Sutter, Allen County has seen a tripling in hospitalizations in the last four to six weeks.

What’s additionally concerning, is the age group of people who are being infected.

“Older populations are now making up more of the new infection whereas about half of the new infections in the summer, were younger people,” said Dixon.

This higher age range of people is more likely to have underlying health conditions, or because of their age, will have a harder time fighting off the virus than someone younger, according to the experts.

“What concerns us is that, not only because those people are at risk of death, but also because it will become very burdensome to both healthcare workers and our health system if we fill up the hospitals with individuals with COVID,” said Dixon.

Sutter echoed Dixon’s concerns about overwhelming the hospitals.

“Not only will they not be able to provide great care for COVID patients, but they’ll also have a hard time providing care for all patients,” said Sutter.

The colder weather driving people indoors is likely contributing to the surge.

“We know that this virus spreads most effectively, kind of in close quarters without a lot of airflow,” said Dixon. “[As] you move indoors, then the likelihood of of transmission goes up a lot so that is likely helping to kind of pass the infection.”

Because of this spike in cases and hospitalizations, people thinking about going out for Halloween or gathering with family for Thanksgiving may want to reconsider their plans.

“If you’re having a party where you’re having a good time and eating and drinking you can’t really wear masks, and it’s hard to find enough space for everybody to be six feet apart,” said Sutter. “That sets up an ideal situation for COVID you can spread to family members, and we could see some really bad consequences from that.”

However, despite the surge, Dixon doesn’t think it’s necessary to completely shut everything down again, but he says increasing restrictions would certainly help.

“It would be prudent to look at strategies such as switching restaurants to carry-out only or delivery only for a while,” said Dixon. “It would also be prudent to think about putting more restrictions on how many people can be safe in a gym or in a business at a given time so that we can minimize transmission.”

Even with increased restrictions, getting rid of the virus to go away without a vaccine is extremely unlikely, according to both experts.

“We really need a combination of vaccination, plus some better hand hygiene and social distancing for a little bit longer to get rid of this,” said Dixon.

In the meantime, experts say evidence shows wearing masks is “extremely effective” at slowing the spread. Everyone medically able to should wear one, regardless if they feel sick or not.

“Wearing the mask doesn’t mean you can’t go out. Wearing the mask doesn’t mean you can’t vote or express your opinion,” said Dixon. “It really is [about] sort of showing love and respect for other people.”

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