COVID-19 hospitalizations locally hit record high amid omicron surge

Columbus Regional Hospital reported a record number of COVID-19 hospitalizations Monday, nearly reaching 70 for the first time during the pandemic as deaths from the virus continue to rise and local testing sites struggle to keep up with demand.

A total of 69 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 at CRH on Monday, which surpassed the previous record of 59 set on Dec. 2, 2020 and comes nearly two years since the first confirmed case of the virus in Bartholomew County.

State health officials have reported that nearly 3,000 Bartholomew County residents have tested positive for COVID-19 since New Year’s Eve, state figures show. That has resulted in at least 379 emergency room visits, 51 hospital admissions and 14 ICU admissions, according to the Regenstrief Institute.

However, those figures likely undercount the total number of infections, as they do not include most people who tested themselves or those who did not get tested for one reason or another.

Additionally, 11 people in Columbus and the surrounding area died from COVID-19 last week — including four Bartholomew County residents, according to the Indiana State Department of Health.

Hospital officials have characterized the current surge as “unrelenting.”

“An unrelenting surge, an unrelenting influx of patients — it’s an unrelenting tragedy of continued death,” said CRH spokeswoman Kelsey DeClue.

Keeping pace

The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 across the state remains near all-time highs and pharmacies and other places offering COVID-19 tests in Columbus are struggling to keep up with demand as infections soar.

As of Tuesday morning, CVS Health, which offers tests at its Columbus locations at 2423 N. National Road and 4495 State Road 46, had no available COVID-19 testing appointments until Saturday.

“Unfortunately, appointments are limited,” CVS Health said in a statement. “Rapid test results are still available within hours, but lab test results are taking one to three days.”

The next available appointments at the Walgreen pharmacies at 2140 W. Jonathan Moore Pike and 2400 Beam Road were Friday morning, with the pharmacy chain warning people that, “due to high demand, available dates and times for testing may be limited.”

The Bartholomew County Health Department had one time slot for testing available on Thursday and then none until Monday, according to state’s online sign-up portal on Tuesday morning.

CRH is experiencing a similar wait time for testing appointments, the hospital said.

As a result of the limited supply of tests, community residents have been going to CRH’s emergency room to get tested, prompting hospital officials to plead with people to only go to the emergency room if they are experiencing a medical emergency.

“We really want to remind people that the (emergency room) — especially right now — needs to be reserved for emergencies, true emergencies, and not for trying to get tested,” DeClue said. “…If you are having mild or even moderate symptoms, it’s really best to contact your provider and just stay home and really reserve the emergency department for the true life-threatening emergencies.”

‘People are still dying’

So far, 714 people in Columbus and the surrounding area — Bartholomew, Brown, Decatur, Jackson, Jennings and Shelby counties — have died from COVID-19 since the virus barreled across the state in spring 2020.

People ages 60 and up account for about 87% of those deaths, according to figures from the state. However, three people ages 19 or younger in the Columbus area have died from the virus, as well as one person in their 20s, four people in their 30s and 18 people in their 40s.

At least 23 people in the area have died so far this month.

The flood of hospitalizations and deaths have been “really tough” on workers who are spending long hours in CRH’s COVID-19 unit and, at times, have felt “hopeless” as patient after patient has been admitted practically every day for nearly the past two years, DeClue said.

“As we’ve started out this year, it has taken yet another turn and toll on the staff emotionally and certainly physically,” DeClue said. “…It’s two years of the same types of patients. This has become their life.”

“People are still dying from this every day,” DeClue said.

Local health officials are continuing to plead with people to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and get their booster shot when they’re eligible. Though breakthrough hospitalizations are rising, people who are vaccinated are experiencing less severe illness, shorter hospital stays — and a far lower risk of dying.

Currently, about 60% of those hospitalized are unvaccinated. COVID-19 patients who wind up in the ICU are “predominantly” unvaccinated, DeClue said.

As of Tuesday morning, 29,970 eligible Bartholomew County residents had yet to get vaccinated, according to the state. Just 27% of the county’s total population has received a booster shot.

“Booster rates in the county aren’t exactly where we would want them,” DeClue said. “That’s an understatement.”

“If you are still unsure about (getting vaccinated) for whatever reason … talk to a licensed, currently working, above-board medical provider, physician or nurse practitioner,” DeClue added. “Frankly, ask them all your questions, tell them how you feel. …If you don’t have a physician (or) you can’t find a physician, reach out to us and we will connect you with a physician.”