I-Team 8

Expect Indianapolis mask mandate to continue a few weeks as more get vaccinated

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Dr. Virginia Caine, Marion County’s health director, said Tuesday the level of COVID-19 community spread is rising and that the surge started before the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, which ended Monday.

Caine also said Marion County should expect its mask mandate to continue for a few weeks as more people get vaccinated to reach herd immunity. The biggest challenge facing Marion County is getting from 70% to 80% of the population vaccinated before mutated strains start to spread. So, far, fewer than 20% had been vaccinated by Tuesday.

“We are in a race right now, reaching that herd immunity before we see a widespread rate of those new mutated strains and they have been identified in every state in the United States,” Caine said in a videoconference with news media. 

Caine says the numbers are not in our favor: less than 17% of Marion County’s population is vaccinated, and the positivity rate has almost doubled in the last month. 

“I’m hoping we will have a milder and a lower surge based on how slowly we are seeing an increase. So, yes, I suspect now based on these numbers to see a surge, but, because of the slowness of it and the lower rate of the rise in cases, we are expecting to have a milder surge compared to what we saw at Thanksgiving and what we saw at the Christmas holidays.”

The county health director also said virus-related emergency department visits have almost doubled in the last month, while first-time hospitalizations have leveled off as vaccinations have increased. The 20something age group is catching the virus at highest rate, followed college-age people, she said. 

“We started to see a slight increase occurring at the start of March Madness, so our initial surge has most likely been associated with spring break,” Caine said. 

Caine said her staff will not know for at least two weeks if the NCAA tournament was a superspreader event.

She also cited a steady rise in coronavirus cases among schoolkids, but said no schools are in danger of closing.