Coronavirus: House GOP revives vaccine mandate bill, Indiana COVID-19 cases climb
Indiana House Republicans sign on to legislation to effectively ban vaccine mandates from businesses. Indiana reports a single-day total of more than 6-thousand new cases for the first time since January. And the state passes more than 17,000 confirmed dead.
Indiana reported 6,160 new cases on Wednesday, surpassing the peaks of the state’s late-summer surge driven by the delta variant.
COVID-19 cases had trended down for six straight weeks after the peak of that surge. But for the last few weeks, cases started to pick back up, growing by 90 percent from the end of October to the week of Thanksgiving.
Indiana reported more than 27,000 new cases in the last week – the most reported since mid-September. It eclipsed 1.1 million confirmed cases on Tuesday, Nov. 30.
And hospitalizations have also picked up. After hovering around 1,300 for a few weeks, the most recent census stands at 2,408.
The state also exceeded 17,000 confirmed dead last week, passing the grim milestone on Wednesday, Dec. 1.
These deaths still trend younger than earlier in the pandemic. Before Aug. 1, fewer than 3 percent of deaths were Hoosiers younger than 50. But just since Aug. 1, that has grown to nearly 10 percent.
On a slightly brighter note: as of Friday’s dashboard update, 65,790 Hoosier 5- to 11-years-olds have received at least one dose of their COVID-19 vaccine.
THE STATE RESPONSE
Indiana House Republicans have revealed their top priority for the 2022 legislative session. The House GOP caucus's 56 members signed on to a reintroduced bill that would effectively ban private companies from enforcing COVID-19 vaccine mandates.
Republicans initially planned to pass their bill last week, suspending all rules to approve the bill in a single day session. But the state’s top business and health care organizations loudly objected, prompting Republicans to back down.
But the House GOP still wants to push forward on the issue once lawmakers return in January for their regular session.
The reintroduced bill, HB 1001, is almost exactly the same, with a minor difference. Previously, it listed "pregnancy or anticipated pregnancy" as reasons to opt out of getting the vaccine. That’s been removed.
Companies across Indiana have voluntarily required worker vaccinations for months. And for some of their employees, religious exemptions look like the easiest way to avoid the mandate – even if it's not necessarily a tenet of their religion.
A complicated mix of federal rules and newly proposed state laws leave many companies wondering how to keep workers safe while honoring religious rights.
Micah Beckwith is a pastor in Noblesville and outspoken in conservative political circles. Earlier this year, he started getting messages from people looking for a way out of the COVID-19 vaccine when their work started voluntarily requiring it.
"I'll spend an hour on the phone, every other day it seems like, with people who are just bawling, they're crying, they're just saying, 'I don't know what to do. I don't know where to turn,'" he said. "'And then I heard about you.'"