The average number of daily coronavirus tests declined in recent weeks while the seven-day average positivity rate in Northwest Indiana inched up. The metric could be a sign more testing is needed to control the virus' spread. Graphic provided by Micah Pollak, IU Northwest
The average number of daily coronavirus tests declined in recent weeks while the seven-day average positivity rate in Northwest Indiana inched up. The metric could be a sign more testing is needed to control the virus' spread. Graphic provided by Micah Pollak, IU Northwest
The number of available beds at Northwest Indiana hospitals' intensive care units stood at 17.5% Friday, a troubling sign as the coronavirus pandemic continues to grip the Region.

That percentage represents just more than 40 ICU beds in Indiana's District 1, which includes Lake, Porter, LaPorte, Newton and Jasper counties and has a population of about 800,000, said Micah Pollak, associate professor of economics at Indiana University Northwest.

The number is concerning, considering the average number of daily hospital admissions recently has ranged from 35 to 40, he said.

"Even if one or two of those go to the ICU, it's not going to take long to fill it up," Pollak said.

About 20 or fewer ICU beds were available at the 12 Franciscan Health hospitals in Indiana and Illinois, spokesman Robert Blaszkiewicz said.

Capacity across Franciscan Health's system was at about 90%, he said.

Locally, Franciscan Health operates hospitals in Crown Point, Hammond, Dyer, Michigan City, Munster and Rensselaer.

The number of available ICU beds varies from hour to hour, Blaszkiewicz said.

In an effort to control the number of COVID-19 patients being treated in Franciscan hospitals, some patients are being directed to recover at home with equipment such as oximeters, which monitor blood oxygen levels, he said.

Pollak said Indiana is currently No. 3 in the U.S. for the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations per capita. South Dakota is first, and Nevada is second.

Among the three states, Indiana has the highest fatality rate, he said.

Indiana is lucky to have a robust health care system, so the number of COVID patients per medical worker is lower compared with other states, he said.

Still, Northwest Indiana health care workers have been doing a difficult job for months now.

"The human element is a big factor here, which is overlooked," Pollak said.

COVID-19 is currently the leading cause of death in Indiana, killing an average of more than 60 people per day.

The leading cause of death before the pandemic, heart disease, kills an average of 39.6 people in Indiana per day.

Northwest Indiana saw a decreasing number of positive cases during the last two weeks of November, but the seven-day average positivity rate has inched back up to 14.3% for the week ending Nov. 29, Pollak said.

That's an increase from 13.3% for the week ending Nov. 22. Some of the data is still preliminary and may change as more information is reported to the Indiana State Department of Health, he said.

"We're finding 32% less cases than a week ago, but we're doing 34% less tests," Pollak said. "On the graph, it looks like a huge decline. It looks great, but the positivity rate is staying the same."

The positivity rate is the number of positive test results divided by the number of tests administered.

When the rate stays the same or increases as the number of positive cases decreases, it means only the most obvious cases are being detected, Pollak said. It also can mean more testing is needed to stem the virus' spread.

If more COVID patients are diverted to hospitals outside of Northwest Indiana, the number of daily hospital admissions could start to drop. But, that won't mean there's fewer patients seeking treatment, he said.

"There's all sort of strange trends going on right now," Pollak said.

It sounds crazy, but there is evidence that hospitalizations and deaths may not occur during holidays like Thanksgiving, as people delay going to a doctor or push through an illness.

The picture is further complicated by a lag in data reporting. Pollak said he's had to adjust his analyses because it's taking longer lately for data to be reported.

The effect Thanksgiving gatherings may have had on new infections should start to become more clear next week, he said.
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