Stage 5 of Back on Track Indiana

Opinion Editorial from Steve Long of Hancock Health:

July 4th marks the beginning of Stage 5 of the “Back on Track” Indiana program.  This year Independence Day will not only commemorate the struggle to create a free country some 240 years ago, it may also commemorate a major step on the way to freedom from the Coronavirus in 2020.

Indiana is blessed to have had a better experience with COVID-19 than other parts of the world.  The number of new infections continues to remain stable, as the number of hospitalizations and deaths associated with the disease declines.  This is an impressive feat considering that the last week has seen the number of cases worldwide, and in the United States, hit the highest levels on record.

I believe our exceptional experience is due to the culture of neighborliness and common sense that forms the foundation of life in the Midwest.  This, coupled with wise leadership from our elected officials and quick action on the part of our citizens at the beginning of the pandemic, has placed us in an enviable position.

While our desire will be to breathe a collective sigh of relief and move on with life, it is important to remember that the disease is not gone, only tamped down.  Treatments for those suffering from COVID-19 remain limited and a vaccine is still many months away.  As we have learned from other regions (even a few pockets in northern Indiana), the virus can spread quickly and unexpectedly, significantly impacting healthcare services in those areas.

Key learning has been that any residence that houses individuals in a congregate setting (jails, dormitories, nursing homes, multigenerational family housing, etc.) are at higher risk for transmission of COVID-19.  In addition, age and underlying chronic medical conditions predispose individuals to poor outcomes if they do contract the disease. The combination of these factors explains the dreadful experience of long term care facilities where, despite the best efforts of their heroic staff and the extraordinary measures they take to keep residents safe, the disease can sneak in the door and ravage the facility.  In Indiana, 90%+ of COVID-related deaths are for individuals over the age of 60 even though 70% of infections are for those younger than age 60.

So, how should we approach Stage 5 of “Back on Track Indiana”?  The rules would indicate that we are free to do almost anything we want, just like the old days.  But good judgment and neighborly love would indicate there is a better approach, one based on weighing the risks of our activities with the benefit it provides.  We should avoid crowded indoor spaces (and wear a mask if we can’t avoid them), wash our hands incessantly, stay home if we feel sick, and clean frequently touched surfaces.  These preventive methods are tried and true for every infectious disease, not just COVID-19, and maybe even more important this fall when flu season arrives again.

We are blessed to live in a region where common sense and caring for our neighbors define us.  If we continue to let these ideals guide us, we can weather this and any other storm that comes our way!