The Journal Gazette
 
 
Friday, May 15, 2020 1:00 am

Numbers give hope to experts

Death rate lower than thought

ROSA SALTER RODRIGUEZ | The Journal Gazette

COVID-19 has turned out to be not as deadly in Indiana and the Fort Wayne region as expected, and residents should have confidence as the community reopens if they continue to keep up their guard.

That was the message Thursday from a forum of experts organized by Dr. Deborah McMahan, Allen County Department of Health commissioner, attended by members of The Journal Gazette staff.

“March 4 to now, we have learned so much. We know more about this virus than we did then,” she said. The new information has informed decisions and actions in the local medical community that will make it more ready to cope with any future surge in cases, she said.

One piece of newly gained knowledge: The virus has led to the death of fewer people than originally expected. Based on experiences in other countries, including Italy, it was thought COVID-19 would be fatal to about 10% of those infected.

However, according to state statistics, Indiana's death rate is about 6%, while the rate in Allen County is about 7%.

As of Thursday, the state has had 26,053 cases and 1,508 deaths, while Allen County has reported 916 cases and 64 deaths.

The virus has not proven especially lethal to young and middle-aged adults. Half of the state's deaths – 49.8% – were in those over 80, and 91.2% over 60. Fifty-nine percent of Allen County's deaths were in those over 80 and 96.5% were over 60. 

The virus also appears slightly more contagious as evidenced by the numbers of asymptomatic cases, but the illness also appears less severe, McMahan said.

“The vast majority of people will be asymptomatic or will be sick (but) won't be involving ARD (acute respiratory distress) and ventilators,” McMahan said. 

With lower rates of severe disease and a lower mortality rate, hospitals are less likely to become overwhelmed, said Dr. Geoffrey Randolph, chief medical officer of IU Health in Fort Wayne.

Hospitals also have learned more about how to care for patients, said Dr. Vishal Bhatia, Lutheran Health Network.

“I know we don't have absolute treatment for the disease. But we know how to manage these patients, the trajectory of the disease and ... how to safely take care of these patients,” he said.

Area hospitals have set up “COVID” and “non-COVID” zones, screen patients on entry, have personal protective equipment and sufficient ventilators, and have enhanced cleaning methods, the experts said.

Local doctors also have quickly moved to virtual appointments for many purposes, making offices and clinics safer, experts said.

But they stressed people need to continue precautions, including wearing a face covering in public, social distancing, hand-washing and other measures.

“We want folks to know we have redesigned our care delivery process because we don't want them to put off care because they're afraid to get care,” said Dr. Jeffrey Boord, chief quality and safety officer for Parkview Health.

“The early measures put in place by the governor and at the local level really bought us time to develop our care plans ... and our capacity plans,” he added.

“That's made a huge difference. ... That's something we didn't have in March when we began seeing our first patients.”

rsalter@jg.net


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