Uptick in COVID-19 cases has Vigo Health worried

Vigo County Health Department This bar chart shows the trend in Vigo County COVID-19 positive tests from March 22 through May 23, and officials say the uptick has not slowed in the last five days.  

The fact that it's warm, sunny and stores are reopening does not mean Vigo County is over the hump and past the coronavirus pandemic.

In fact, the county's health officer on Thursday said people need to ditch casual apathy and redouble efforts to minimize contact with COVID-19.

Uptick in COVID-19 cases has Vigo Health worried

Darren Brucken

"There's an apathy in the community, in the majority of the community. People just aren't wearing masks and practicing social distancing," said Dr. Darren Brucken, Vigo County health commissioner. "It's an apathy the community really cannot afford."

"...The sun is out and people are moving about in commerce and doing business without recourse," the doctor said. And while the urge to get out is understandable, "the fact that it's 85 degrees and the sun is shining does not mean this [virus] has left the community — in fact, it's been more prevalent than ever."

What has alarmed Brucken and colleagues at the Vigo County Health Department is a noticeable uptick in positive cases of COVID-19 infection.

While it seems logical to attribute that increase to more people being tested, that's not the case, the doctor said in an interview and the department said in a message posted on its Facebook page.

"Unfortunately, all but one of our new positives sought testing because of signs and symptoms of the illness. Coupled with known asymptomatic people in the community, this means there are simply additionally more cases of active COVID-19 within our community as of today, than in weeks past," the department posted on Thursday afternoon.

"We had eight more today [and] then three more come in later in the day," Brucken said Thursday evening. "And we're seeing that every day — six positives one day, nine positives another, 10 the next."

What physicians and the health department are seeing is not a result of increased or random testing, he said.

Put simply, "People are getting sick."

The health department asks the community, as it reopens, to regather some of the vigilance it showed in March, April and earlier in May.

"Please don't be apathetic right now," Brucken said. "It's just not the right time for that."

The department says vulnerable people — including older residents and those with co-morbid conditions such as diabetes, obesity, COPD, and heart disease — should practice strict distancing and masking and venture out only when necessary.

It also asks everyone frequent businesses that insist on masking of employees and patrons and which are following recommended best business practices to keep everyone safe as possible.

"Reopening our economy is what needs to happen at this time, but it should not be misconstrued to mean our cases are falling, or that we are suddenly safe from COVID-19 in our community," the health department wrote. "All of us need to continue to do our part to socially distance, to keep ourselves safe, and to protect all of us around us."

Brucken also noted contact tracing is becoming more complex as people let down their guard and some interact without caution or without the degree of caution they were showing just a month ago.

A 24-year-old, for instance, might visit his 62-year-old father, who then takes groceries to his 84-year old mother. The grandmother says she hasn't left her house, while the father says he's been following precautions fairly well, and the 24-year-old says he's not worried because he's been feeling great. When tested, all three come back positive.

It's a hard time of year for people to stay in, and health officials say they do get that people want to get back in the mix as the community reopens, the economy is being restored and churches start coming back together in person.

"We do understand that, but it's just getting more and more difficult to trace as well," Brucken said. "Please, please pay attention to social distancing and masking."

Brucken said given an increase in pediatric cases, he's also concerned about Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children, or MIS-C.

Indiana's first confirmed case of that syndrome — which attacks multiple organ systems and the onset of which appears after coronavirus infection — was reported in mid-May.

The nation's experience with MIS-C to date shows that it arrives after community spikes in COVID-19 cases, Brucken said, and he believes "it will come to Marion County, it will come to Lake County, it will come to Cass County, and it will come here."

Contact Mark Fitton at mark.fitton@tribstar.com or 812-231-4333.

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