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Sustained COVID surge tops Dec. 2020 peak, Lafayette hospital ICUs at or close to 0% available
Hospital doc: ‘It sounds really dangerous. Because it is.’ Plus, meet West Lafayette’s new youth voice with the city council. And reporting live outside her son’s bedroom, it’s Kayla Sullivan
A quick programming note this morning. Today, the Based in Lafayette reporting project welcomes a new sponsor: Stuart & Branigin. The firm’s support helped make this edition possible.
On a day when Tippecanoe County’s weekly average hit 242 new COVID cases a day – the most since the pandemic started, even more than in the initial big wave 13 months ago in December 2020 – Dr. Dan Wickert at Franciscan Health Lafayette had some practical advice.
“I mean, don’t get in a motor vehicle accident,” Wickert, vice president of medical affairs with Franciscan Health in Lafayette, said.
His point was backed by an Indiana State Department of Health update Monday that showed hospitals in a nine-county Lafayette region had no available intensive care unit beds. Wickert warned that the 0% figure was a snapshot of a situation “that changes hourly, by the half-hour, sometimes by the minute.” But with ICU space – listed at 78 beds in Monday’s report – at zero percent availability and with nearly two-thirds of those beds used by patients with COVID, Wickert said, “we’re in some trouble.”
“We still have people who have cardiac disease and have heart attacks and people who have strokes and people with diabetes out of control, and we’re struggling as to how we find appropriate spaces to care for them,” Wickert said. “ER waits are long, as we wait for beds to open. … That sounds really sad. It sounds really dangerous. Because it is.”
Across the Franciscan Health hospitals in the region, including Lafayette, Crawfordsville and Rensselaer, there were 74 COVID cases, as of Monday, Wickert said. That number was in the mid-20s just before Thanksgiving. (“We’re talking huge numbers for us,” Wickert said. “Just huge.”)
IU Health Arnett, another Lafayette hospital, had 54 COVID cases, Jeanine McGill, director of communications, said. There were another eight COVID cases, combined, in IU Health hospitals in Frankfort and Monticello, she said. IU Health Arnett, with 14 designated ICU beds, had 18 patients in the intensive care unit – 10 of those with COVID, she said.
“To provide the care the community needs we are flexing beds and staffing to provide ICU-level care beyond what our hospital was built to provide,” McGill said.
Some other takeaways Monday …
The numbers in Tippecanoe County: The seven-day average of 242 new cases a day topped the previous peak of 234 cases a day, on Dec. 5, 2020, according to state records. The past week included Tippecanoe County’s two largest single-day totals, with 370 on Dec. 29 and 346 on Dec. 30. (Initially, the state had Dec. 29 at 376, but Monday’s report redistributed some cases as the health department gathered additional data.)
Wickert said that those combined 716 cases in two days would not show up for another seven to 10 days at the hospitals, if trends during the pandemic hold up.
The numbers across the state: The surge in cases in the past week was more pronounced in statewide figures reported Monday. The seven-day average was at 8,175 new cases a day in Monday’s state figures. The highest comparison before this week was 6,895 new cases a day on Dec. 6, 2020. That’s 18% more than the previous high.
Hospitals statewide …: had 10.7% of its ICU beds available, with 37.3% of its ICU capacity taken with COVID patients.
Testing locally: Shortages of tests persisted, evidenced by a state-contracted site in the former YMCA at 1950 S. 18th St., next to the county health department’s vaccine clinic. The COVID testing site had limited tests available Monday. And the Tippecanoe County Health Department put out this statement on its Facebook page around 2 p.m. Monday: “The testing site is now out of tests. We will post tomorrow as soon as the shipment comes in. We will also be getting another testing site in the county for a few days and will post details tomorrow.” For now, for testing site appointments and clinics with walk-in availability, check ourshot.in.gov.
Purdue’s plans: Some colleges and universities have started to pull back from full reopening plans for the spring semester. Among them: Big Ten rival Michigan State, which is starting the spring semester with three weeks of remote classes. Purdue has not announced plans to adjust classes, including going virtual or delaying the start of the semester, with classes scheduled to resume next week. “No update, no change,” Tim Doty, a Purdue spokesman, said Monday.
As of Monday, Greater Lafayette’s schools had not announced changes to schedules, either, as winter breaks wind down this week.
Back at the hospital, Wickert said the hospital had “one more lever to pull” to find space if the surge continues. Franciscan already has postponed elective surgeries that require overnight stays. He said that could be extended to outpatient surgeries. Wickert said Franciscan and IU Health Arnett continued to stay in touch “almost hourly” to figure out how to work through the situation collaboratively – “negotiating and horse trading for space so we put community resources in the right places.”
“When you’re in our hospital and you talk to me, you’re like, ‘Man, this is terrible,’” Wickert said Monday. “Then you leave the hospital and go out in the community, and it’s like, ‘What pandemic? What problem?’ There’s a significant disconnect. Sort of like, ‘Well, that’s your problem. You’re a hospital. That’s what you guys do. You handle it.’ I get that. But this isn’t an unlimited resource. There’s a breaking point.”
Beyond that advice to not get in a car crash, he recommended people get the vaccine and the vaccine booster, which have shown to lessen the chances of being hospitalized with COVID. (For appointments: Go to ourshot.in.gov.)
“Are we at the peak of this? Are we still going up?” Wickert said. “We don’t know. We also don’t know how much more we can take.”
FIRST YOUTH ADVISER TO WEST LAFAYETTE CITY COUNCIL APPOINTED, READY TO START
Born in the days of climate strike marches from West Lafayette High School to city offices a few years ago, the West Lafayette City Council’s new youth adviser position debuts Tuesday night.
Ethan Bledsoe, part of the lobbying effort to add a high school voice to the city council, will test drive the position for the second half of his senior year. The youth advisers who follow, with a seat at the city council table but without a formal vote, will serve terms that mirror their August to May school years.
“It’s kind of cool that I’ll be the first one, because I’ll get to see all that works and all that doesn’t work,” Bledsoe, a West Lafayette High School senior, said. “Hopefully, then, whenever it comes up for reappointment, I can help make sure it’s working.”
City Council President Peter Bunder announced Bledsoe’s appointment during a council work session Thursday, ahead of the first meeting of 2022, on Tuesday. Bledsoe will serve through his high school’s spring semester.
Since the announcement, Bledsoe said he’s been trying to get up to speed before a Tuesday meeting that includes pending votes on an ordinance that includes new penalties for leaving a pet in a hot car to the addition of a house on Northwestern Avenue as a standalone historic district to a proposed rate increase to help cover bonds of up to $15 million for the separation of a combined storm and sanitation sewer. (A proposed ordinance that would ban unlicensed therapists to practice “conversion therapy” on anyone younger than 18 was tabled last week until the February city council meeting.)
“I’m not well versed in all the technicalities,” Bledsoe said. “But I know there are going to be things where I can contribute.”
The city council created the non-voting position in September. Council member Shannon Kang, a Purdue student and also Purdue Student Government president, sponsored the resolution calling for the student adviser to be a high school junior or senior who lives in West Lafayette. The student adviser is supposed to make “specific recommendations for youth programs and activities to City Council and government operations” and serve “as a forum for youth to share the expansion of ideas, needs, concerns and goals relating to community issues particularly as they may affect youth.”
Bledsoe was part of a group of West Lafayette High School students who pressed Mayor John Dennis and the council to adopt new goals aimed at reducing the city’s carbon footprint. Their group turned into a statewide coalition of high school students, who persuaded state Sen. Ron Alting, R-Lafayette, to introduce climate-related bills in the 2022 General Assembly session. Bledsoe also helped install and stock what he called free climate resiliency libraries, stocked with climate-related books in five West Lafayette neighborhoods.
Bledsoe said he plans to study environmental science at Northwestern University next year.
“I think it’s important to have someone that represents youth voices,” Bledsoe said. “This is what we were working for. I’m just the first one, that’s it.”
IF YOU GO: The West Lafayette City Council will meet at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. Starting last week, due to a rise in COVID case, West Lafayette’s public meetings will be held virtually. Here’s the agenda, which includes links to ways to log in or call in to the city council meeting.
REPORTING LIVE, FROM THE HALLWAY, KAYLA SULLIVAN
Every parent in the world, at some point, feels former WLFI reporter Kayla Sullivan and this live broadcast outside her toddler son’s bedroom, after a rough outing at an Olive Garden. As of Sunday evening, the TikTok had more than 7 million views, more than 1 million likes and 19,000 comments. “Carrie Underwood commented, so my life is complete,” Sullivan told me Sunday from her home in Oklahoma. (The only advice here: Hang in there.) Her TikTok feed, full of parenting and routine home life adventures done up in the style of her former career in broadcasting – tagline: Tagline: “Former TV news reporter coming @ you live from mom life” – are worth more than a remember-her-when follow.
Thanks, again, to new Based in Lafayette reporting project sponsor Stuart & Branigin for helping make this edition possible.
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