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Vaccine still best defense as new COVID-19 variant cases rise across state

The state of Indiana has surpassed 800,000 positive cases for COVID-19. The death total is closing in on 14,000.

In Shelby County, positive cases are near 5,500 with 98 deaths.

Those statistics will continue to climb as the Delta variant of COVID-19 spreads.

“As long as you continue to have people not vaccinated, they can transmit it and it can change and become a new variant,” said Dr. Paula Gustafson, Chief Medical Officer at Major Health Partners in Shelbyville.

With each variant, COVID-19 can become more aggressive and more dangerous, according to Gustafson.

MHP Medical Center is seeing a rise in patients in recent weeks. In its latest public update Monday, the pediatric practice, the emergency department and the inpatient unit were all dealing with an increase in patients with respiratory issues.

The pediatric department has seen walk-in cases double with patients with respiratory symptoms or respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

“We can’t just have one thing at a time,” said Gustafson. “It is very unusual for RSV season this time of the year. It affects younger kids. The youngest ones take the brunt of it.”

On Sunday, the emergency department had 78 patients, 23 of which complained of respiratory issues. So far Major Hospital has not yet reached critical levels in terms of staffing – a problem at some hospitals.

“A lot of people in our profession have left because of COVID-19,” said Gustafson. “There is a severe nursing shortage. It’s not that hospitals don’t have beds, they don’t have the people to care for them.”

The inpatient unit is averaging 8-to-9 Critical Care Unit patients per day. What has changed in 2021 from 2020 is the average age of those admitted.

As of Monday, 90% of August COVID+ admissions were unvaccinated with an average age of 56 years old. The average age of vented patients is 53.

“A lot of older people got vaccinated,” said Dr. Gustafson. “Younger people feel they don’t need the vaccine. So we’re not getting the (admission) rates of older people.”



While the vaccine does not make someone immune from COVID-19, and it does not guarantee a person that has had COVID-19 will not contract it again, it does lessen the impact on the human body.

“The vaccine never stated it would prevent you from getting COVID-19. It will prevent you from getting seriously ill from COVID-19,” said Dr. Gustafson.

Vaccinations are readily available at multiple sites in Shelby County. According to the Indiana State Department of Health, just over 3,000,000 Hoosiers are fully vaccinated even as positivity rates climb over 10% as it is in Shelby County.

“Nothing is ever as simple as promised,” said Dr. Gustafson. “(Vaccination) is the best weapon to get herd immunity and make it harder to transmit the virus.”

While Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb has stated he is not interested in reinstituting a mask mandate, he does support school systems requiring kids to wear them once again while in class.

The four superintendents in Shelby County are adamant they do not want kids being forced to wear masks in the classroom. It will take a state mandate or county health department decree to change policy.

“I don’t want to prognosticate and it certainly wouldn’t be our choice in this situation … for us right now our bigger concern is close contacts,” said Northwestern Consolidated Schools superintendent Chris Hoke after Monday’s school board meeting. “We made a move to start spacing kids out by six feet in instructional areas and doing some things we can that are identified as close contact. What we are seeing is a majority of them don’t later contract (COVID-19).”

Hoke estimated there had been about nine COVID-19 positive cases in the Triton Central school system as of Monday.

“There are things we know are not preferred in a school setting instructionally and we are trying to not have to do the things if we don’t have to,” said Hoke. “The reality is we will react to the reality on the ground and do what we need to do.”

City and county government buildings in Shelby County also could be returning to a mask requirement.

“I think that is where it’s going with the numbers that we are seeing,” said Shelbyville mayor Tom DeBaun after the most recent Common Council meeting at City Hall. “Watching the news and seeing what is happening across the country and as mobile as we are as a society, it is just inevitable that it is going to happen. I don’t anticipate any mandates from the state level. I think it is unfortunate something like this has been politicized. I think these things will be dealt with on the local level.”