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Elkhart VP of Medical Affairs: “I can confidently say that we are prepared”

During the past week, Elkhart County has seen an increase in positive COVID-19 patients. The rate of increase has been concerning not only to people in the community, but also to people in health care, said Dr. Michelle Bache, Vice President of Medical Affairs, Elkhart General Hospital. Here is our interview with Dr. Bache about this topic.

Q: What is happening in Elkhart County?

A: “We have taken over St. Joseph County as far as our total number of cases. Elkhart County is now the fifth highest in the state of Indiana for the number of coronavirus cases, and that includes Marion County and counties toward Chicago that have a much denser population than we do. So this is very concerning. We added 174 new cases to our totals this weekend alone, and so we are definitely seeing more community spread and more community cases and we are concerned about that.”

Q: How prepared is Elkhart General for a possible surge of COVID patients?

A: “We spent the end of March and whole month of April getting our surge plan in place so the efforts that were taken as far as the community stay at home order — that was very important and we didn’t see a big surge. But it was crucial for us to be able to ramp up and get our plans really secured. How could we bet more bed capacity? How could we get more ventilator capacity? how could we get more medical staff capacity, PPE, all those things really were a big focus for us in April. We don’t want to have to use that capacity; that was not something we were hoping to use, but we wanted to be prepared. So I can confidently say today that we are prepared. We have lots of ICU beds, we have lots of negative pressure rooms. We have a 30-bed COVID unit, and we are definitely prepared. That does not mean we want to fill those beds.

“We are concerned about the normal trajectory of the COVID illness. People get sick and may have a few days of asymptomatic type of infection and they then develop symptoms in about seven days into their illness is when most people are either going to start to improve or may get much much worse and require hospitalization. So this uptick that we’ve been seeing the past week, we’re concerned that we’re going to start seeing that manifest as increased need for hospital resources this coming week and next week, so we really need to do everything we can to try to get these number of infections down.”

Q: What advice or practical tips do you have for Elkhart County residents?

A: “We realize that people need to go to work. And we realize that people need to be socially connected and are going to want to interact. There are safer ways to do that than others, so getting together if you want to be with a small group of people and being outside, is going to be a safer option than being inside. Wearing masks, although not a perfect solution, is quite effective in preventing the spread from an asymptomatic person to another individual. Masking is a very important strategy. I would just say that if we look over to our neighbors — St. Joseph County, where they have a mask ordinance in place. They added 28 cases over the weekend and we added 174.

“What is the difference between our communities? There are some demographic differences, maybe some workforce differences, but the masking strategy is just huge. We need to make sure that the community understands that, rather than fixating on things that are likely to be ineffective and have very low risk — like wiping down your groceries when you get home. These have very low risks, but putting a mask on is huge. It’s a very important public health measure that we need our community to understand. People should be isolating when they’re sick. If you feel ill, you shouldn’t obviously be going to work and you should not be socializing with people. We need to make sure that people are staying home when they’re sick, getting tested if they have symptoms and then making sure that their contacts are all notified of the illness.”