GOSHEN HEALTH GROUNDBREAKING

Goshen Health President and CEO Randy Christophel speaks to the crowd during the Goshen Health groundbreaking ceremony in this Nov. 4, 2019, file photo. 

GOSHEN — With positive COVID-19 cases spiking in Elkhart County as the state works to emerge from quarantine, the CEO of Goshen Hospital is worried the hospital could be overwhelmed with new cases if the upward trend is not dealt with swiftly.

Randy Christophel, president and CEO of Goshen Health, shared his concerns with the Goshen City Council Tuesday.

Christophel noted Elkhart County has passed Allen County to become one of the top three counties in the state when it comes to positive COVID-19 cases.

As of Sunday, Elkhart County had a total of 2,603 positive cases reported, behind just Lake County, which had 4,400 positive cases reported, and Marion County, which had 10,945 positive cases reported.

“We’re on the rise,” Christophel told the council Tuesday.

Speaking to the trend in daily statewide positive cases over the past few months, Christophel noted that the average number of positive cases in the state appears to have peaked back in late April.

“And so, as the governor started rolling out the phased reopening plan, it made perfect sense from a state perspective, because you could see the downward trend,” Christophel said. “But when you lay Elkhart County next to that, we’re heading exactly in the opposite direction, and so still very much on an increasing trend. Clearly, our activity has been on a much-delayed increase cycle from what the state has been doing.”

MORE YOUNG PEOPLE TEST POSITIVE

As an aside, Christophel also noted that in Elkhart County, the age demographic for those contracting the virus seems to be trending much younger than the state average.

“Elkhart County is much younger in terms of positive cases, almost 15% in the Under 20 age group, compared to only 5.7% for the state,” he said of the situation. “We don’t have a lot of insight into why that is, but clearly our graph has shifted up from what the rest of the state is seeing.”

With daily positive cases in the county spiking into triple digits recently, Christophel warned that if that upward trend is not dealt with swiftly, he worries that local hospitals could soon be overwhelmed.

“In much of April, our high was 24 (cases), and then more recently 84 and 88, and then a few days ago peaked at 101. So, you can clearly see the trend,” Christophel said. “Our experience is about 15% of positive cases get admitted to the hospital. And so, when we see 101, that means 15 of those will eventually get admitted to the hospital, and our correlation studies show that it’s on average about six days after a positive test result when someone gets admitted. So, that’s important from a hospital capacity standpoint.

“For much of April, we were at zero to one per day, then it moved up to two to three per day, and now as we’re getting into June it’s three to four a day, and then it’s starting to take off,” he added of the situation. “We still have capacity, but at this rate we will run out of it if this continues. We will be tight on capacity here within the next week or two at the most. So, this trend is concerning because it’s starting to press hospital capacity.”

EXPERIENCE HELPS

That said, Christophel did note that while capacity issues are a growing concern, the hospitals are in a better place today than they were several months ago in terms of knowing how best to deal with incoming virus patients.

“Early on, it was lots of concerns about running out of ICU beds, running out of ventilators, and those aren’t the issues right now,” he said. “We’ve learned how to keep people off of ventilators. We treat people differently now. We don’t put them on ventilators quite as quickly as what we would have in the past.”

When asked what might be causing the rise in recent positive virus cases in Elkhart County, Christophel pointed to issues such as growing noncompliance and burnout when it comes to people’s continued adherence to recommended virus restrictions and precautions.

“People just don’t want to comply with any restrictions. And so, you start to see mask utilization going down, social distancing going down. That’s a challenge,” he said. “And then people just frankly wanting to get back together with family and social gatherings. And so, all of this is contributing to this (upward) trend.”

LEADERSHIP CONCERNS

Additionally, Christophel pointed to what he sees as a general lack of urgency from the messaging coming out of the county health department, and from county leaders, as also contributing to the issue.

“It’s easy to be a back-seat reviewer on this, but in terms of restrictions, or putting mask requirements on, we’re behind, and we’ve got to do better with our messaging getting out,” he said, noting that this is particularly true when it comes to the county’s Amish and Hispanic populations, which are seeing a disproportionately high number of positive cases when compared to other groups. “And so, how we communicate, share information, encourage improvements in protecting each other, we need to continue to work at that.”

Goshen Mayor Jeremy Stutsman offered a similar sentiment following Christophel’s presentation.

“We’re going to be working hard to get our messaging out there,” Stutsman said. “We need our business community and our residential community to take this seriously. We need everybody to step up or we’re going to be in a much worse scenario quickly.”

John Kline can be reached at john.kline@goshennews.com or 574-533-2151, ext. 240315. Follow John on Twitter @jkline_TGN.

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