INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett and Marion County Public Health Department Director Dr. Virginia Caine shared updates on the county's response to the COVID-19 pandemic in a Thursday morning media availability.
Hogsett kicked off the session by saying he will continue to wear a mask after receiving the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. He also drew a parallel between basketball fundamentals and the need for everybody to practice the fundamental best practices for fighting the spread of the virus going forward.
The mayor expressed confidence that downtown businesses will self-regulate when it comes to enforcing limits on capacity, social distancing and masking during the NCAA tournament. He also praised tournament personnel and volunteers he saw working Wednesday at the Big Ten games at Lucas Oil Stadium for providing frequent reminders to wear masks and maintain social distance during games.
In addition to the NCAA tournament organizers, Hogsett complimented the Indiana High School Athletic Association for working with local health departments on safety plans for the boys state basketball tournament. He said Thursday the same capacity limits for Marion County venues that apply to the college tournaments will apply at high school tournament sites for this weekend's regional games through the state finals at Bankers Life Fieldhouse April 3.
Dr. Caine said venue capacity stands at 25 percent and venues will continue to be cleared between sessions for cleaning. Participants and support personnel will undergo intensive and frequent testing to maintain a bubble. Individuals will wear surveillance monitors to enhance contact tracing if and when anybody tests positive.
Marion County trends are positive
In her weekly update of case trends, Dr. Caine reported Marion County data continues to show progress. The county is now down to a 2.9 percent weekly positivity rate for COVID-19. For comparison, she pointed out the rate was 16.4 in December.
The seven-day average of positive COVID-19 cases now stands at 104 per day. Caine said the county's goal is 35 cases per day.
Hospitalizations are down, and the county is showing about one death or fewer per day from the virus.
Across age groups, Caine pointed out that cases among the oldest residents have dropped, likely due to vaccinations in those groups. But there has been an uptick in cases among college-aged people in the Indianapolis area since the beginning of March.
Marion County vaccination updates
The percentage of Marion County residents now fully vaccinated stands at 9.2 percent. Just under 50 percent of residents above age 80 are now fully vaccinated, with 45 percent of residents 70-79 having received all required shots.
Dr. Caine reiterated the most recent CDC guidelines that said fully vaccinated individuals can gather with non-vaccinated individuals of the same household.
With regard to Marion County schools, high school students can return to in-person learning while wearing masks, facing the same direction and maintaining social distancing of three feet. Contact tracing must continue in and out of schools.
Caine said vaccination outreach efforts are planned for underserved and high risk populations. Those vaccination programs will be announced in coming days and weeks.
She also pointed out that the IU Health Neuroscience Center downtown has vaccine appointments available right now for those eligible.
"Light at the end of the tunnel"
Hogsett, when asked to reflect on the way Indianapolis handled the pandemic over the past year, had high praise for Dr. Caine and the county's health department. He used the terms "measured, deliberate and frustrating" when describing how Indianapolis dealt with the pandemic. "We're not in the clear yet, but we sure can see the light at the end of the tunnel," Hogsett said.
Dr. Caine's response to the year-long pandemic expressed initial shock that the national stockpile of protective equipment and N-95 masks was not available early in the pandemic, forcing challenges. She said health care workers "stepped up to the plate" to address those challenges. She also praised educators and other experts.
Caine offered a warning near the end of the session about spring-breakers, advising to maintain best practices for masking and social distancing while traveling. If anybody travels to an area that shows a high level of COVID-19 cases, she stressed the need to quarantine upon their return to Indianapolis.