It’s nearly impossible to fathom the number of cases and deaths from the COVID-19 virus, so we added some geographical perspective.
Indiana now ranks second in the nation for COVID-19 hospitalizations per capita, according to an IndyStar analysis of available data.
Roughly 50 out of every 100,000 Hoosiers are now hospitalized with COVID-19, an increase from last week that builds on an alarming trend that is straining the state’s hospital system.
Only South Dakota at 61 per 100,000 is doing worse, according to the IndyStar analysis of data from the COVID Tracking Project, an initiative led by journalists, scientists and others since the pandemic began.
But while South Dakota has about 480 hospital beds per 100,000 people, according to a 2018 survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, Indiana has about 270.
“The current hospitalization trends are alarming and are straining Indiana’s hospitals’ ability to care for all patients, including those with COVID 19,” said Brian Tabor, president of the Indiana Hospital Association in an emailed statement. “Hospitals across the state are struggling with staffing issues as the number of cases has grown. Each one of us must commit to doing our part to reduce the spread of this terrible disease so that all Hoosiers can access the care that they need 24/7.”
Less than two weeks ago, Indiana led 44 other states in hospitalizations, but the number of patients hospitalized for COVID treatment across the state has increased since to 3,401. In the spring the number of people hospitalized never broke 2,000.
While new coronavirus cases dipped over the weekend — perhaps because fewer people got tested during what was for many a four-day holiday — the number of patients hospitalized for COVID now exceeds any other time in the pandemic. The count dipped slightly Wednesday to Thursday but otherwise has been on the rise for the past 10 days.
Indiana does have a higher percentage of residents with obesity and other comorbidities that put them at risk should they fall ill with coronavirus, said Micah Pollak, an associate professor of economics at Indiana University Northwest, who regularly Tweets analyses of the state’s coronavirus data.
Still, he said, he was taken aback to see Indiana pull so far ahead of other states.
“Being second is a little surprising,” he said. “If we look at absolute numbers, we have way more hospitalized than South Dakota. In sheer numbers we’re doing way worse.”
State officials and hospital administrators have been warning the public for weeks that capacity at Indiana’s hospital is stretched. Coronavirus cases have broken near-daily records in the state, far surpassing the spring wave of the virus.
Now, there are roughly three hospitalized COVID-19 patients for every two intensive care beds in the state. Many hospitals have reported seeing record numbers of COVID patients in recent weeks.
Last Monday Goshen Hospital officials said in a press release that its COVID unit was housing 57 patients, more than at any other time to date. The hospital was canceling elective surgeries and had to send some patients in need of intensive care to other facilities. Monday the hospital’s in-patient COVID census had shrunk to 39 positive patients, with one person pending a test.
Central Indiana also has seen hospitalizations peak in the past five days, reaching 950 at one point. In the spring, these hospitals saw at most 771 patients. About 80% of IU Health’s intensive care unit beds are being used, according to the health system’s online coronavirus dashboard.
At many hospitals the issue isn’t as much space as it is staff to handle the number of patients. Many hospitals are facing staff shortages due in part to burnout and quarantines for providers who have been exposed to the virus.
Early in the pandemic, Gov. Eric Holcomb passed an order suspending elective surgeries, freeing up space and staff for a surge in COVID patients. Hospitals repurposed rooms to ramp up their ICU capacities. At one point, the state had more than 3,300 ICU beds available.
Today, however, as hospitals strive to continue care for those with other conditions, the state lists 2,164 ICU beds, significantly fewer.
As of midday Monday, three out of four of those ICU beds were occupied, according to the state’s coronavirus website. About 45% of all ICU beds were occupied by a COVID-19 patient. About 70% of the state’s ventilator capacity remained available.
In all since the start of the pandemic, 26,018 people have been hospitalized with COVID in Indiana, about 9% of all those who have tested positive, according to the Regenstrief Institute. Of these, 4,722, or 1.6%, have been admitted to the intensive care unit.
Health experts have warned that the current situation could only grow worse with time. If Indiana sees a further spike in coronavirus cases after Thanksgiving, a few weeks later the number of hospitalized patients could rise even further.
“It is concerning because we don’t have much room to go up if cases continue to rise,” Pollak said.
Emily Hopkins is a data reporter for IndyStar’s investigative team. Reach them at 317-444-6409 or [email protected]
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