If you have had trouble breathing lately there may be a good reason. A dome of high pressure has moved over Daviess County and the rest of the Midwest bringing with it scorching high temperatures and miserable humidities. But that isn’t even the sum of the problems lingering in the air this past week.
“There have been a lot of air quality issues in our area during this same time,” said Daviess County Emergency Management Agency Director Scott Myers. “The big problem has been particulates resulting from the wildfires out west. That smoke has been constant and it gets caught in the jet stream and has been moving across southern Indiana.”
Air quality alerts are nothing unusual for this time of year. Summer often brings ozone alerts, but Myers says the latest alerts are different.
“These are much worse for people with breathing issues,” said Myers. “The dome may get a push this weekend and we will see some cooler temperatures, but the fires are continuing. The best hope is the front coming through pushes the jet stream to the south.
While the big summer heat wave is creating problems, it does not appear to be responsible for an increase in hospitalizations in Daviess County.
Daviess County Hospital Administrator Tracy Conroy described an increase in patients census at the hospital during the heat wave as coincidental and not causal.
“We have had an increase in the census at the hospital and that is kind of unusual for this time of year,” said Conroy. “We are busy and we are seeing more ER visits.”
Officials say that normally when weather and air quality cause problems it is hardest on those who work outside for extended periods of time and those with pre-existing conditions like COPD, emphysema and asthma. But while officials are not reporting that those cases are not driving the increase, they are not pointing to anything particular raising the number of patients. There are some things though that are helping it along.
“COVID is spiking again,” said Conroy. “I know our county level is still blue (meaning a low level of spread), but we do have cases in the hospital now and that number could increase very quickly. With our low vaccination rate in the county, I think we have been very lucky.”
State health officials report the COVID cases are the worse since the end of May and are now running more than 1,000 new cases per day. About 2.9 million Hoosiers are fully vaccinated. That’s less than half of the state and Daviess County’s vaccination percentage is still below 30%. The ISDH reports nearly all recent COVID deaths and hospitalizations have involved people who were not vaccinated.
“This has now changed to the pandemic of the unvaccinated,” said Conroy. “That is concerning because if we fill up with COVID patients we worry what will happen to our heart patients and people who need other treatments.”
State officials report many hospitals in the state have gone to a diversion status where they are so full that they are sending patients to other hospitals. Much of that is being driven by shortages of staff rather than the number of beds available.
“We have not gone to diversion,” said Conroy. “Right now, we are keeping our COVID patients in negative-air-rooms, but we have not opened our respiratory care unit yet. We have a number of positions open but it is not enough to cause us to stop taking patients.”
DCH has utilized some “travel nurses” to cover shortages through the pandemic. Some of those may get their contracts extended.
“We don’t want to be losing staff, when we are seeing a higher census,” said Conroy. “We had intended to let some of those contracts go soon, but we can make changes.”
Perhaps, the biggest surprise when it comes to COVID this week is that Daviess, Martin and Orange counties have created an island of low spread “blue” counties in the state department of health Covid spread map.
Neighboring Greene, Dubois, Pike and Knox counties were listed as “yellow” indicating moderate spread of the disease.
Knox was an improvement from the previous week when it had been listed in the “orange” category, along with Gibson County.
Gibson remains in the “orange” category.
Local officials point out that an outbreak in one county of the highly contagious delta variant can easily spread.
Daviess County has more than 500 people who drive everyday to Gibson County to work. Knox and Daviess County commuting patterns show more than 1,000 people living in one county and working in the other every day.
“We just have too many unvaccinated people,” said Conroy.