Fayette County among country’s worst for COVID numbers; Wayne County moves closer to red level

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Dr. Wayne White

Fayette County health officials announced Wednesday, Nov. 4, that the county has some of the worst COVID-19 statistics in the country.

It ranks in the top 100 worst counties in the United States for cases per hundred thousand on a seven-day rolling average.

In addition, Fayette County is Indiana’s only county to remain in the red level, 3, which is the state’s worst, for COVID-19 for the second straight week.

On Wednesday, Fayette County’s Health Officer, Dr. Wayne White, recommended that all Fayette County schools curtail all extracurricular activities from Nov. 5 through Nov. 16.

In a news release, Wayne said he is dismayed with “our lax response to the pandemic compared to other communities. We need to improve!”

Schools are to remain open at this time, but the need for an extension of the restriction or additional restrictions will be monitored on a daily basis.

“We all need to step up if we want to continue enjoying high school sports and extracurricular events through the winter season,” White wrote. “I want to emphasize that the spread of the virus is mainly due to community spread and not from the schools and I am heartbroken that we need to take this action.”

White said he discussed the county’s situation with Dr. Kris Box, Indiana health commissioner, and she agreed with his recommendation. Box also recommended partnering with Indiana Department of Homeland Security to coordinate spot audits of local Fayette County establishments to ensure compliance with Stage 5 mandates.

During Gov. Eric Holcomb’s weekly news conference, he did not roll the state back from Stage 5 or impose additional restrictions as some rumored he would do after winning Tuesday’s election.

Holcomb said the decisions the state makes have “zero, zip, zilch, nothing, nada – I don’t know how to say any clearer- to do with politics or campaigning.”

He said his only campaign is to save lives, and he gets daily and weekly reminders about how far the state still has to go in slowing the virus.

He urged Hoosiers to social distance, wear masks and focus on hand hygiene as effective and inexpensive tools to keep schools and businesses open and allowing health care systems to take care of every Hoosier’s needs, COVID or otherwise. He said he wants to not only keep Indiana’s economy going but growing.

However, Holcomb said the state will continue to take a localized approach to surges wherever they are in Indiana and is paying attention to each county’s numbers. About 400 Indiana National Guard personnel have been deployed into communities to help at long-term care facilities, and about 900 more are being prepared for those roles.

White noted that Reid Health is beginning to become overwhelmed with the very sick people in the COVID isolation wards and staff is spread thin.

“An increase in the number of deaths will soon follow and possibly involve younger people,” he said.

Box said Indiana has had a 200 percent increase in cases from Sept. 15 to Oct. 25, and hospital admissions are at the highest level since pandemic began, with 1,897 Hoosiers hospitalized with confirmed or suspected COVID, straining their staffs and resources.

Some health systems are rearranging elective procedures as they did in the spring to meet staffing challenges. Hoosiers with health care experience are encouraged to join a health care work reserve.

Box said she wants health care workers to know “we see you and we hear you,” and the public can simply show respect to health care workers by masking, washing hands and social distancing.

Box also said 701 Hoosiers died in October from COVID. While 551 of them were 70 or older, nearly two dozen of the deaths were those younger than 50, with most of those deaths coming in the last two weeks. She reminded residents that COVID doesn’t care what age a person is.

The only tools the county has to slow the spread of COVID are masking, frequent hand washing and avoiding large gatherings until a vaccine is available, White said.

White said it’s time to make a “firm recommendation” to community members and local leaders to support wearing masks and following federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state recommendations.

White uses the SMASH COVID acronym with key letters: Social distance, Mask, Avoid large crowds; Sick? Stay home; and Handwash frequently.

Wayne County has inched closer to its own red ranking. It has been at a 2, but increasing cases mean it now stands at 2.5. As of Wednesday’s report from the state, Wayne County has 1,823 lab-confirmed positives and 39 deaths, one of which is new.

Union County is now at a 2.5 as well. One of the state’s smallest counties, it has had 145 cases and 0 deaths.

Henry and Randolph counties are both at a level 2. Henry County, with 1,615 cases and 30 deaths, has been flagged for a large number of its weekly cases coming from large gatherings. Randolph County has had 567 cases and 12 deaths.

Franklin County, which had many of its cases early in the year, is the region’s lowest at 1.5. It has had 421 cases and 26 deaths.

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