(INDIANAPOLIS) – Indiana is working to create more intensive-care capacity ahead of a coming surge in coronavirus cases.
State Health Commissioner Kristina Box says she expects the number of patients to peak in mid-to-late- April, though she cautions the data used to model the pandemic’s progress are constantly in flux. She says Indiana could see a lower but more prolonged peak stretching into mid-May.
Box for the first time released numbers on how many critical-care beds the state has available. She says Indiana hospitals have already added 500 beds to bring the total over 1,900. She says adding bed space is one of the easier problems to solve — hospitals can repurpose other wards to create more intensive-care units. IU Health says it’s already creating more space by consolidating neonatal intensive care units at Riley Hospital for Children.
More challenging, Box says, are personnel and equipment. The state wants to double its inventory of
nearly 1,200 ventilators. Box says with elective surgeries being postponed, anesthesia equipment
can be retrofitted into ventilators. And the state could add some machines from sources including
outpatient surgery centers and the National Guard.
Indiana also needs enough doctors and nurses to take care of the expected flood of patients. Governor Holcomb has signed an executive order relaxing licensing requirements. He says more than 5,000 doctors and nurses have responded already to a request for volunteers. The state is trying to bolster its ranks by bringing retired doctors back to work, or using specialists who don’t normally handle intensive care patients. Box says those with some critical-care experience could go on the front lines, while others could backfill other jobs to free up current personnel.
Box says she’s also talking with the deans of the Schools of Medicine and Nursing at IUPUI about
recruiting fourth-year students. She says the only thing those students are missing is their residency
requirement, and they may be able to fill gaps under the supervision of veteran doctors.
Box downplays a warning from her predecessor, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, that Indianapolis is an emerging hotspot for the virus. Marion County has 804 confirmed cases, nearly half the statewide total, and 12 of the state’s 35 deaths. Box says she believes Indianapolis is flattening the curve of the virus’s advance. After a burst of nearly 200 new cases on Friday, the pace of new cases has dropped off sharply, though the county continues to report more than 100 new cases a day.
Holcomb says the fact Indy’s numbers are large enough to draw national attention underscores the need for everyone to “play by the rules” and not defy last week’s order to stay home. “You may think you’re Superman, but I guarantee you you’re not,” Holcomb says. He reminds Hoosiers that people without symptoms can still transmit the virus to others.
Holcomb says he’ll extend an executive order requiring restaurants to serve carryout and delivery only. That order had been set to expire on Tuesday.