An Open Letter to Hancock County Residents from Hancock Health
Covid-19 is the new norm in America, in Indiana, and in Hancock County. Though there has not yet been a confirmed case of the disease for a Hancock County resident, at least one person who works in our county but lives elsewhere has been diagnosed and is recovering at home. It is very likely that there are many, many more individuals in our county who have been infected with Covid-19 and are experiencing mild symptoms but may never be officially diagnosed. These individuals likely think they are experiencing a bad cold or mild form of respiratory flu (which is common this year). In fact, these individuals are carriers of a highly infectious disease, that is known to be deadly for the elderly and those with underlying health conditions, and may unknowingly be sowing the seeds of our own piece of the global pandemic.
While we have an exceptional hospital in our county and have easy access to the larger health systems in Indianapolis, you may not know that the majority of healthcare is provided in an outpatient environment (70% of Hancock Health services are outpatient) and we all operate near capacity for our inpatient units with very little wiggle room even for the impacts of the seasonal flu. While we have surge plans in place, our hospitals will be quickly overwhelmed should Covid-19 spread unchecked.
We cannot keep the disease out of the county, it is already here; thus, we need to slow the transmission and spread the number of potential cases over as long a period as possible in order to smooth the flow into our hospitals and save lives. The only way to slow the transmission of the disease is to minimize contact with infected people. Since we don’t know who is infected, the only answer is to minimize the overall contact we have with each other. This is called social distancing.
Covid-19 typically spreads in the droplets of mucous we all expel when we cough or sneeze. These droplets have a range of about six feet. So, we all need to stay out of this six foot radius…something that is almost impossible to do in modern society. This is why schools are closing, churches are not meeting, and people are being asked to work at home – even when only a few cases of the virus have been detected. If we do nothing, we guarantee that the virus will spread unabated to many of us.
Hancock County is one of the smaller counties in the Indianapolis metro area, but an infection rate of only 5% of the residents of Hancock County could result in more than 700 people requiring hospitalization. If this were to happen in the course of just a few weeks it would overwhelm ALL the hospitals on the East side of Indianapolis, not just Hancock Regional Hospital. An infection rate of 35% would require more hospital beds than are present in the entire central Indiana area – and this would only meet the needs of our small county. Clearly, if it happens here it would be happening in Marion County as well and the large hospitals would be overwhelmed by the 900,000 people living in Indy.
In the event of a devastating outbreak, we will need to take care of ourselves with the resources we already have in Hancock County. If we take the proper precautions, we can reduce the risk of high infection rates and slow the advance of the disease to the point that we do not overwhelm our own health care system. So, here is what you can do:
- Large gatherings should be cancelled (or skipped) including churches, concerts, conferences, and sporting events.
- Schools, daycares, and sports clubs should be suspended.
- Create distance between family units and individuals by stopping play dates, parties, etc., and if possible, begin working from home.
- Take care of yourself and your family, but maintain social distance. Go outside and enjoy the spring, but just with your family. If you go to public places, maintain at least six feet between groups. Reduce the frequency of going to stores, restaurants, coffee shops, etc., and try to go at off-peak times, maintain your distance, wash your hands often, and please don’t use medical masks and gloves, these are going to be needed by healthcare workers. Let’s support our local businesses during this time by purchasing gift cards (on-line) and using them in the future.
- Make liberal use of phone and video connections to maintain relationships, but don’t visit in person, especially nursing homes and hospitals.
- If you are sick, isolate yourself at home and contact your primary care physician office. If you do not have a primary care physician, please feel free to call the Hancock Health Covid-19 Triage line at 317-325-2683 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are experiencing respiratory symptoms or believe you have Covid-19, please do not just show up at your doctor’s office as you might infect others in the waiting room. Call your doctor first and they will tell you what to do. As always, if you are having difficulty breathing, or are experiencing an emergency condition, head straight to the closest emergency room.
The Covid-19 pandemic is a true public health emergency. If we do everything we can to minimize the spread, we will minimize the long-term impact on our families and our communities. And this is not a one-week sprint, it is a new norm for the next several weeks and will require patience. The future of Hancock County rests in each of our hands – please take this seriously.