IU Health chief shares through COVID-19 Q& A

Compiled by Peg McRoy Glover

Dr. Rocky Singh, chief medical officer at IU Health Indianapolis suburban region, held an online news conference on Sept. 23 responding to timely questions and providing up-to-date information on COVID-19. Singh leads IU Health North, West, Saxony and Tipton hospitals.

Question: What is the impact of COVID-19 on staff and patients in hospitals right now?
Answer: Our hospitalization rate has gone up. We did see similar patterns last winter, but we are not seeing as high a spike, which is good.
If you look at the state of Indiana, our peak hospitalization rate during this wave was about eight days ago at 2,700 patients across the state. We are now down to less than 2,400 today. We are seeing a flattening of the curve in some counties around Central Indiana. At peak we (the hospitals he leads) had about 500 patients, and today we are down to 380 patients.
IU West has about 40, and IU North has 17 COVID patients. The numbers are coming down, and we are cautiously optimistic.

Question: Does the delta variant strain of COVID-19 affect children differently than the original alpha strain?
Answer: The first wave primarily impacted the elderly and immunity-compromised ill patients. This time around we are seeing far younger and sicker patients. Unfortunately, Riley (Hospital for Children) experienced a pediatric death two days ago, which was very sad for all of us. So, it is impacting the younger population this time around.

Question: Do you see us heading back to mask mandates and social distancing?
Answer: I don’t want to speculate. But what we know is that masks, social distancing and vaccinations work. During the first wave, we experienced a lower infection rate among our employees who were really strict about masking and using other personal protection equipment than in the general population.

Question: What is the availability of ventilators and intensive care unit beds now as compared to the height of the pandemic in 2020?
Answer: The last wave caught us by surprise. This time around we are much more well prepared to meet the needs of our patients. We learned during the last wave that we are resilient and resourceful. We can do things like rig an anesthesia machine to be a ventilator, and this extends our capacity. If we needed to convert more rooms into intensive care rooms and add more ventilators, we learned how to do that successfully. We haven’t turned anyone away.

Question: What is the hospital’s stance on vaccinating children ages 5 and up as a requirement for school attendance?
Answer: Once again, we do not want to speculate. But what we do know is that vaccinations work. We look forward to the time when all of the kids can be safely vaccinated. We will continue to follow the Center for Disease Control and the Federal Drug Administration guidelines.

Question: What are the projections for COVID-19 infections for the rest of 2021 in Hendricks County and the surrounding areas?
Answer: We are seeing the rates flattening, but we don’t know what the winter will bring. We are once again cautiously optimistic that the wave might be dissipating over the next few weeks and we will continue to see a decline. But we are continuing to stay prepared.

Question: Is the delta variant the major cause for hospitalizations, and how does the hospital determine if the infection is the delta variant?
Answer: At this point in our country, 98% of the new infections are from the delta variant. It is twice as likely to spread. It is 1,000 more times more likely to be in the upper airways than the alpha variant. We don’t test each and every COVID patient for the delta variant, but the sampling we do test shows the delta variant profile.

For up-to-date information on COVID-19 infection rates visit the Indiana State Department of Health dashboard at coronavirus.in.gov/map

For current information on IU Health’s visitor policy visit iuhealth.org/covid19/visitor-appointment-updates

Submitted photo: Dr. Rocky Singh