Doctor weighs in on sharp rise in COVID-19 cases

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Indiana has had its highest number of COVID-19 cases since the virus was declared a pandemic back in March. On Thursday, the Indiana State Department of Health reported 5,708 new positive tests. The trend is not unlike what’s happening in other states across the country.

News 8 spoke with Dr. Elaine Hahn Le, chief medical officer at Healthline. Le discussed possible reasons behind the surge, how the nation is doing in terms of contact tracing and the importance of staying vigilant about precautions to prevent the spread.

Gillis: We’ve seen a spike in COVID-19 cases these past few weeks. We’ve reached numbers that we’ve never reached at any other given time during this pandemic. However, there is a decline in death rates. Does that mean the virus may have mutated into a strand that is less deadly?

Le: Most people–including myself–feel that the death rate has declined because the rate of testing has increased. So when you think about hospitalization rates, incidence rates and death rates–all that is based on the denominator of how many cases there are in the community at large. And in the beginning the number of cases diagnosed versus the number of cases we were seeing dying in the hospitals were tracking at a very high level. But now we’re seeing more testing in the community, the denominator for total cases in the community is higher. But because we’ve become much smarter at treating the patients in the hospital and because we are being more vigilant about preventing transmission to people who are most vulnerable we were also doing a better job at helping prevent deaths and that is likely the cause of death rates declined in the community. 

Gillis: Given that this may be the case, how do we give people a sense of ease? Because people are scared. 

Le: Well, the fact is we have seen a high spike in our cases over these last few weeks. It’s not surprising. We knew this was going to happen based on historical records and we knew this was going to happen based upon historical data and we knew this was going to be happening when the cold weather was going to come in. We never take light of the fact that total incidence is still increasing and death counts are still being seen. It’s not that people are getting infected and rebounding quickly.

And, in fact, we also want to reiterate that we’re seeing people who have gotten COVID-19 and recovered, but are still experiencing long-term negative effects from their previous infections, too. We’re still seeing people who are experiencing pulmonary problems from their previous infection. So, we reiterate that even though we do know more about the condition and we’re better at treating it we still don’t have a proven recipe or proven track record of containing it, controlling it and even eradicating it. So, it’s still something we really need to be mindful of. We’re not out of the woods yet. 

News 8’s medical reporter, Dr. Mary Elizabeth Gillis, D.Ed., is a classically trained medical physiologist and biobehavioral research scientist. She has been a health, medical and science reporter for over 5 years. Her work has been featured in national media outlets. You can follow her on Instagram @reportergillis and Facebook @DrMaryGillis.


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