COVID-19 deaths in the Columbus area continued to mount during October, though at a slower pace, as the deadliest three-month span of the pandemic since the winter surge comes to a close.
A total of 25 people in the Columbus area died from the virus during the first 28 days of October, raising the death toll since Aug. 1 to 88, according to the Indiana Department of Health.
Fewer deaths have been reported in October compared to last month, when 46 deaths were reported in the area, which includes Bartholomew, Brown, Decatur, Jackson, Jennings and Shelby Counties.
But the 88 deaths over the past three months far surpass the 59 deaths reported from August to October 2020, when no vaccines were available. It also the highest three-month total since 266 people died from the virus from November to January.
The worst part of the recent surge, local health officials say, is that most of those deaths were preventable if people had gotten vaccinated, which has been shown to overwhelmingly prevent deaths and serious illness.
A study released last month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that tracked more than 600,000 COVID-19 cases in the United States found that those who were unvaccinated were 4.5 times likelier than the fully vaccinated to get infected, more than 10 times likelier to be hospitalized and 11 times likelier to die, The Associated Press reported.
Last month, Columbus Regional Health officials said that 19 of the 22 the patients who had died from COVID-19 at the hospital since July were unvaccinated.
“It has been frustrating and disheartening to see deaths continue to occur due to COVID-19,” said Bartholomew County Health Office Dr. Brian Niedbalski. “Granted, deaths from COVID infections can occur in the unvaccinated and vaccinated alike, but the data is showing that there is a large discrepancy between the two groups. It is also disappointing because we have safe and effective vaccines available to reduce severe illness and death,” Niedbalski said.
“I understand there are individuals who have made informed decisions to not receive a vaccine for valid reasons, but too many people are still being misled by misinformation on social media and politics,” Niedbalski added.
The tragic scenario, officials fear, will continue to unfold in Columbus and the surrounding area until more people get vaccinated. So far, nearly 88,000 eligible people in the area, including some 25,300 in Bartholomew County, have so far refused to get vaccinated for one reason or another, state records show.
But as health official continue to encourage the unvaccinated to roll up their sleeves and get their jab, people are continuing to show up in large numbers at hospital emergency rooms and fill hospital beds.
Nearly 600 people in the Columbus area with COVID-19 wound up seeking medical care in a hospital emergency room during the first 27 days of October, according to the Regenstrief Institute, which processes data from the Indiana Department of Health. A total of 103 of those people were admitted to a hospital and 29 landed in an intensive care unit.
At CRH, hospitalizations have declined somewhat over the past few weeks but have remained stubbornly high, hospital officials said.
The hospital has seen an average of 25 people hospitalized with COVID-19 over the 10-day period ending Oct. 27, compared to an average of 35 from Aug. 15 to Oct. 15. CRH also recently saw an alarming increase in ICU admissions earlier this week, with 10 COVID-19 patients requiring intensive care this past Monday, the hospital said.
By comparison, before the surge this past winter, CRH never totaled more than 22 COVID-19 hospitalizations in a single day.
And as the colder months approach, hospital officials are concerned that cases and hospitalizations could start rising again — followed by more deaths.
“We know COVID is not going anywhere,” said CRH spokeswoman Kelsey DeClue. “The goal is to keep people out of the hospital. The goal is to keep illness less severe, and the best way to do that is the vaccine. So when we see these (hospitalization) numbers kind of huddling at this rate, it’s still too high for comfort.”