May in review

Indiana showed improvement in COVID-19 in May compared to April, but numbers were more mixed when compared to the state’s best month in the pandemic, March 2021.

INDIANAPOLIS — After seeing a pickup in COVID-19 activity throughout April, May was a return to decreases as Indiana hit some of its lowest case and death numbers ever.

May could make a case for the state’s best month all-time during the pandemic, challenged by March of this year, but positivity was higher and more people have been hospitalized compared to two months ago, making the comparison a bit mixed.

COVID-19 activity appears to be suppressed as the state closes in on 1-in-2 Hoosiers becoming fully vaccinated, with May being the first full month since all Hoosiers 16 and older became eligible for vaccines which occurred in the first week of April.

After hitting all-time highs in vaccine numbers in early April, however, vaccine demand has been in steady decline throughout May as the people who wanted the vaccine have now received it and fewer people trickle in to receive shots.

Comparing April to May, May showed improvement in case numbers as well as slight improvement in daily deaths per day.

Average daily cases dropped to approximately 776 per day, down from a 1,080-per-day average in April. The 776 cases per day was the best monthly average to date, slightly edging March 2021’s 786 cases per day.

The state also saw some minor improvement in average daily deaths per day over the last month, dropping to 9.4 per day average from 9.6 per day in April. That is also the best monthly average ever.

Despite hitting the best-ever marks in cases and deaths, however, positivity was 3.57% on the month. That’s a little better than April’s 3.78%, but is higher than the record low in March of 2.77%.

Testing has dropped again, with the state running just about 21,700 tests per day, down from around 28,500 per day in April.

Testing is likely to continue to drop, however, as more and more people become fully vaccinated and don’t require testing if exposed to COVID-19 or if picking up cold- and flu-like symptoms amid weather changes, high-allergy days and other summertime sicknesses they might contract.

The drop in testing is also likely to impact positivity numbers going forward, as the pool of people being tested is becoming smaller, so each positive result will have a larger percentage impact. As those getting testing are likely to be mostly unvaccinated people, the chances of them having COVID-19 if they become ill is also likely to be higher than when the state was throwing a wider testing net.

That being said, hospitalizations are another sign of the virus’ impact and those numbers remained higher throughout May than they were in the state’s best month, March. The state closes out the month with 695 patients in treatment at Hoosiers hospitals, an improvement, but not as good as the all-time lows set back in March.

Hospitalization numbers had peaked over 1,000 early in May before deflating back down below 700 by the end of the month. The rise in hospitalization numbers was brought on amid rising case counts in Indiana in April, as hospital numbers usually lag one or two weeks behind rising case numbers.

Although new cases are down, Indiana is increasingly seeing more variant strains of COVID-19 in the cases it is recording.

As of the end of the month, about 53% of new cases are sequencing as a COVID-19 variant, with the majority of those being the B.1.1.7 “U.K.” variant of the virus.

In total, Indiana has identified 3,382 variant cases in the state, also recording some strains of the Brazil, California and South Africa variants of the virus.

COVID-19 variants have shown to be more infectious and slightly more dangerous than the original virus genome that was sequenced in 2020, showing more propensity to land people in the hospital, especially younger people.

Health officials have been encouraging all people to get vaccinated as a way to prevent transmission of variants and the possible emergence of new variants if the virus continues to mutate as it replicates in the environment. Changes in the virus could improve its transmission rate, create more serious or new symptoms or — of most concern — change its infection vector which could allow the virus to circumvent current vaccine formulas.

Despite continuing encouragement to get vaccinated, Indiana has seen a sharp decline in vaccine demand that started in April and has continued throughout this past month.

Indiana hit a high seven-day average of about 56,000 vaccine doses distributed per day on April 12, but numbers have been in steady decline since.

As of May 1, the average number of vaccines being distributed fell to 41,280 per day and have continued to dip to 18,365 per day as of the end of the month.

That’s a 55.5% decrease in May and a 67.3% decrease off the all-time high.

Although vaccine numbers would eventually decrease as the pool of unvaccinated people drops, Indiana still has millions of residents yet to receive the vaccine and far more capacity to vaccinate than people interested in getting the shot.

Just 43.2% of Hoosiers age 12 and up are fully vaccinated — Hoosiers 12-15 just became eligible for Pfizer vaccines as of May 13 so none have been able to receive a second shot yet.

But among Hoosiers age 16 and up, who have been able to get vaccines since early April and have now had about two full months to become fully vaccinated, the rate is barely higher at 46.1%.

The U.S. celebrated hitting a milestone of half of all Americans 18 and up becoming fully vaccinated, but Indiana is one of the state’s lagging that overall national progress.

In total, 2,512,956 Hoosiers have become fully vaccinated to date.

Vaccine rates remain the highest for Hoosiers 65 and older — rates higher than 70% — but lower among younger age groups.

Vaccine rates for those younger than 45 are below 40%, with fewer than 30% of people younger than 30 being fully vaccinated at this point.

Locally, case counts have remained low around the region as the counties have seen improvements in per-capita case rates and positivity week to week across May.

Noble County logged 214 new cases across the month, followed by Steuben County with 154, DeKalb County with 145 and LaGrange County with 91 new cases.

The four-county area also saw some new deaths from COVID-19 in May, the first in the region in some places in months. Steuben County had its first new deaths since March, while LaGrange County logged its first deaths in the county since January.

Noble and DeKalb counties both sit at 85 deaths from COVID-19 all-time, followed by LaGrange County at 72 and Steuben County at 59.

As for vaccine rates, just over 40% of Steuben County residents are full vaccinated, followed by 36% in DeKalb County and 32% in Noble County. LaGrange County’s vaccination rate is only 21%, the lowest of Indiana’s 92 counties.

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