INDIANAPOLIS (CBS) — The state’s top doctor on Friday said Indiana is experiencing the worst surge of new COVID-19 cases since last winter.

CBS 2 Investigator Megan Hickey reports the latest wave is being fueled by the more contagious delta variant.

READ MORE: Worries Of A 'Twindemic' As Flu Season Coincides With The COVID-19 Pandemic

“I’ve heard other medical professionals around the country state that this is the darkest time in the pandemic. Unfortunately, I share those sentiments,” Indiana Health Commissioner Dr. Kris Box said Friday afternoon.

Box warned that the surge is only going to get worse if people don’t start masking up and getting vaccinated.

“We are going to see cases continue to increase, probably till right after Labor Day, and then we will see hospitalizations follow,” she said. “I think we are fully expecting and preparing that things are going to get much worse with the hospitalizations here in the next four weeks.”

Box said, while she understands people want to have control over decisions about medical care at a time when many things seem out of their control, but said “I do not understand how wearing a mask is so difficult for people to try to prevent transmitting this virus.”

Box said Indiana has seen more than 20,000 new cases of COVID-19 since Monday, including a steep increase in pediatric cases, particularly among children age 10-14. The state’s average test positivity rate is up to 10.8%, the highest it’s been since early January, after hitting a low of 2% in June.

“Many of our hospitals are once again struggling with staffing and capacity issues. Nearly 2,200 Hoosiers are currently hospitalized for COVID. Keep in mind that our peak was just under 3,400 patients,” Box said.

While the largest increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations has been among older Hoosiers, Box said the state also has seen an increase in children being hospitalized, noting that children under age 12 are not yet eligible to be vaccinated.

“To anyone who argues that COVID-19 does not impact children, I can assure you that every parent with a hospitalized child would disagree,” she said.

 

Box and Indiana Health Department Chief Medical Officer Dr. Lindsay Weaver said it’s frustrating that 48% of the Indiana population remains unvaccinated, despite shots being widely available for free.

“I want Hoosiers to understand that the decisions that they are making affect others. It’s incredibly disappointing to have effective tools such as the COVID-19 vaccine, and still have nearly half of our eligible population refuse to get it,” Box said.

READ MORE: Simeon Career Academy Student Shot And Killed Just Blocks From School

Weaver said having so many people remain unvaccinated is allowing the virus to continue to thrive.

“It puts those who cannot yet be vaccinated at greater risk. We do not expect to see vaccines become available for children under 12 for several months. So I encourage everyone to use the tools at their disposal to protect those who are most vulnerable, and vaccines continue to be highly effective at preventing serious illness,” she said.

Box said there have been so many new hospitalizations from the virus that many intensive care units have been filled, and some hospitals have been forced to postpone non-emergency procedures.

Four of state’s 10 emergency preparedness districts in have reported using more than 100% of their ICU beds; in the northern, northeastern, central, and south portions of the state, according to Box.

“This surge continues to be fueled by the extremely infectious delta variant,” Box said, adding that the variant now accounts for 98% of all new COVID-19 cases in Indiana.

“I want Hoosiers to understand that this surge isn’t just impacting the individuals who are being diagnosed with COVID. It impacts the person who might need a biopsy to see if he or she has cancer, the accident victim who gets held in an emergency room because there are no staff to put him in a room, the person who was dependent on a joint replacement to relieve their extreme pain,” she added.

Box recalled recently seeing a picture of a cancer patient sitting back of a patient’s van, instead of being in the hospital, because there were no beds available.

“It was heartbreaking,” she said.

Box and Weaver also sought to dispel the latest falsehood being spread about COVID-19, that it can be treated with the anti-parasitic drug Ivermectin. The drug, which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has specifically warned against, is frequently used as a dewormer in animals, and is not an approved or recommended treatment for COVID-19.

Weaver said studies have been done on that drug, and it has not been proven to be an effective treatment for COVID.

“Do not go and take a medicine that is not prescribed to you and there’s no evidence … that it can help you, because it actually could harm you,” Weaver said.

Box said Indiana’s poison control centers have received calls for people who have become severely ill from taking Ivermectin, and even had to go to the hospital.

MORE NEWS: State Data Show One Chicago Nursing Home Has Fewer Than 1 Percent Of Staff Vaccinated Against COVID-19

“Don’t take a medicine that’s prescribed for animals, especially large animals, that has not been proven to affect a virus or disease,” Box said.

CBS 2 Chicago Staff