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Indiana reaches 350 virus deaths; expected peak pushed back

April 13, 2020 GMT
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A sign is displayed at the Bethany Pointe Health Campus, Saturday, April 11, 2020, in Anderson, Ind. Multiple residents at the Indiana nursing home have died from COVID-19. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
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A sign is displayed at the Bethany Pointe Health Campus, Saturday, April 11, 2020, in Anderson, Ind. Multiple residents at the Indiana nursing home have died from COVID-19. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana’s actions aimed at stemming spread of the coronavirus have pushed back the expected peak of illnesses in the state and given hospitals more time to prepare, the state’s health commissioner said Monday.

The COVID-19 death toll for Indiana has reached at least 350 people as health officials on Monday reported seven additional deaths. The latest deaths added to the state’s tally occurred between Friday and Sunday but represent a slowdown in fatalities after Indiana recorded at least 17 daily deaths for 10 straight days through Thursday. Indiana’s coronavirus death total since first reported fatality occurred on March 16 is already more than double the some 150 average flu deaths over a seven-month period.

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Previous projections had shown Indiana could be seeing a surge of illnesses as early as this week, but that is now expected in late April for the Indianapolis area and the first weeks of May for rest of the state, said Dr. Kristina Box, the state health commissioner.

“I really do believe that we have not seen the peak of that surge yet but I do believe it will be a lot lower, which is the result of all the very strict guidelines and requirements that we’ve had for social distancing in this state,” Box said.

The state’s largest concentration of COVID-19 deaths has been at a nursing home in Anderson. Twenty-two residents of the Bethany Pointe Health Campus have died, which is down from the 24 deaths reported by officials on Friday, said Dr. Daniel Rusyniak, the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration’s chief medical officer. He didn’t give any reasons the discrepancy during Monday’s briefing from the governor’s office but the agency later said health officials identified discrepancies in information and verified the lower number of deaths over the weekend.

At least 46 residents of 12 long-term care facilities have died with virus illnesses, according to the state health department.

The health agency also reported Monday that an additional 331 people had confirmed cases of COVID-19, increasing Indiana’s total cases to more than 8,200 in all 92 counties. That’s up about two-thirds from a week earlier even as testing has been largely limited to those seriously ill and health care workers.

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Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb said he would announce Friday whether he would extend the statewide stay-at-home order that first took effect March 25. Holcomb didn’t criticize President Donald Trump’s assertion that he had the authority to ease virus restrictions across the country, but the governor said he didn’t want the state to “relax at the wrong time” and see another wave of virus illnesses.

“We don’t want to go through this or make a call prematurely and go through this again,” Holcomb said. “That would be even worse and so we want to be safe, not sorry.”

After weeks of preparing for the expected surge of COVID-19 patients, Indiana hospitals had about 44% availability among their nearly 3,000 intensive care unit beds and 73% availability of their nearly 2,900 ventilators, according the state health department Monday.

Holcomb said a decision on easing such restrictions will depend on factors such as the ability of hospitals to care for patients if illnesses flair up again. Holcomb said he also wanted to see the state build up its own stockpile of protective supplies and hospital equipment for responding to any new outbreaks.

“Should there be a second wave come fall like some suggest there could be, we need to be in a better position than when we first went into this storm,” Holcomb said.