INDIANAPOLIS — After hitting a peak in mid-September in COVID-19 activity driven by the highly infectious delta variant, October represented a month of deflating cases, hospitalizations and deaths as the state came down off that peak.

Entering November, activity has continued to tail off, leading into a new valley as Indiana closed out 2021.

Unlike last year, the state is entering the winter months on the downswing, as compared to 2020 when Indiana was seeing sharp increases at this time of year, leading to all-time record highs across all metrics before peaking and before vaccine distribution started in early 2021.

Though the downswing off the delta variant peak started in September, it continued consistently throughout October, making the month one of continual improvement.

Starting with cases, October’s monthly average ran about 1,925 new cases per day, a nearly 45% decrease from the 3,475 average seen throughout September. Indiana hasn’t seen any days drop below 1,000 reported cases again, but it’s getting closer.

Positivity decreased by about two percentage points, about 25%, to 6.1% on the month. With decreasing activity, testing numbers fell off 25% to an average of 31,550 per day during the month.

Hospitals also cleared many beds during the month, with the state going from a total census of 1,923 patients in treatment for COVID-19 to 1,297 as of Oct. 31.

The one metric that didn’t show major improvement on the month was average daily deaths, although that has come down as well across October. After averaging about 37 deaths per day throughout September, October’s average dropped to 33 per day, although it’s been lower recently.

Deaths are a lagging indicator, falling last of any metric since people who get seriously ill and eventually die take longer to register after first being diagnosed or hospitalized, as patients may struggle for days or weeks before eventually dying.

In total, Indiana registered about 1,000 deaths on the month, which registers it as the sixth deadliest month of the pandemic so far, although an improvement from more than 1,100 deaths the month prior.

Northeast Indiana did see multiple new deaths tallied during the month of October. As compared to the end of September, DeKalb County logged 10 new deaths, Steuben County had eight, Noble County added seven and LaGrange County had five deaths on the month.

As October has closed out, many of the state’s metrics appear to be flattening out, or at least decreasing at a slower rate than earlier in the month.

It’s unclear whether the recent flattening is the sign that activity is plateauing or preparing to turn upward again as colder weather sets in, or whether it’s just a temporary blip or a sign that progress made in the coming weeks will be at a slower pace.

Last year, November and December 2020 and January 2021 were the worst three-month span of the pandemic, with COVID-19 activity surging to its highest points of the pandemic.

The delta surge this fall was the state’s second-worst in its history, but the peaks only hit about two-thirds of last year’s winter surge totals.

Throughout October, Indiana’s vaccination effort has slowed to a crawl, with the state seeing barely any progress on new vaccinations.

Indiana went from a total population vaccination rate of 48.2% on Oct. 1 to just 49.6% as of Oct. 29, the slowest one-month gain since distribution started earlier this year.

While Indiana’s vaccination rate for Hoosiers age 12 and up is about 59%, northeast Indiana remains much farther behind, with Steuben County at 48%, DeKalb County at 45%, Noble County at 43.5% and LaGrange County at just 26%.

That being said, October did result in a few developments on the vaccine front, including booster doses being approved for high-risk individuals for all three types of vaccines — Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson — as well as the option for people to mix and match their vaccines and get a booster from a different manufacturer than their original doses.

The federal government also approved use of Pfizer vaccines for children age 5-11, widening the eligibility range. Now only pre-school aged children are the only age cohort not eligible for any type of vaccination, with that youngest age group also seeing almost no fatal impact from the virus.

Most of the activity occurring during the fall surge in cases was happening among the state’s unvaccinated population.

From the period between Aug. 20 and Oct. 28, 79% of cases were among the state’s unvaccinated. For hospitalizations, 92% were unvaccinated, while 79% of all deaths during that approximately two-month span were unvaccinated.

As the state’s vaccinated cohort skews heavily older — more than 80% of people 70 and older are fully vaccinated — those who suffer breakthrough cases are much likely to be very old and therefore much more at risk of death. The average age of people who died after suffering a breakthrough case in Indiana is 78 years old.
© 2022 KPC Media Group, Inc.