The Indiana Department of Health reported 615 additional confirmed deaths over the last week – the most reported in a single week during the pandemic, and more than double the high reported in April. That brings the state’s total to 8,111 confirmed deaths. The state also reported nearly 32,000 new cases in the last week.
Since moving to Stage 5 of its reopening plan on Sept. 26, the state has reported 408,704 positive cases and 4,721 confirmed deaths – 77.6 percent of the state’s total positive cases and 58.2 percent of deaths for the entire pandemic.
Here are your statewide COVID-19 headlines from last week.
Hospitals across Indiana can once again schedule non-emergency, elective surgeries after Gov. Eric Holcomb said Wednesday he’ll lift the temporary ban on such procedures.
Holcomb announced three weeks ago that hospitals must halt elective, in-patient surgeries from Dec. 16 to Jan. 3.
Now, the governor said after talking with hospital systems and seeing slight improvement in hospitalizations from COVID-19, he’s ready to lift the ban.
“But we monitor these numbers, again, every day, every week,” Holcomb said. “And so, while there’s an executive order that’s out there that goes three weeks, we’re going to be reviewing this tomorrow and the next day – whether it’s a holiday or not – and track and follow that ebb and flow of the cases.”
Rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in Indiana remains focused on frontline health care workers and nursing home residents. That’s even as some hospitals are reportedly vaccinating people much further down the priority list, like teachers.
Dr. Lindsay Weaver, Indiana Department of Health chief medical officer, said the state is telling hospitals to verify that they’re giving the vaccine to the people identified as most in-need right now.
“But I’ve also communicated to them is to have a list for the end of the day, that if they have any additional vaccines – whether it even be three – and they can’t find a health care provider at hand to put it into, that they go ahead and put the vaccine into people,” Weaver said.
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As more Hoosiers continue to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, there are questions about herd immunity. Herd immunity is when the majority of people in a certain population are vaccinated, so they end up helping protect the part of the population that is not.
Brian Dixon is the director of public health informatics at the Regenstrief Institute. He says in order to achieve herd immunity in the state, 70 percent, or roughly 4.8 million Hoosiers need to be vaccinated.
Dixon said we most likely won’t reach that number of vaccines until late summer, assuming logistically, everything goes as planned. That means everyone gets vaccinated when it’s their turn and that there’s enough vaccines to meet demand.
"We believe we can make an impact, even without achieving herd immunity for the whole state, before that time period, if we vaccinate some of the high risk populations," Dixon said.
Indiana reported 1,000 new confirmed COVID-19 deaths in just 13 days, bringing the state’s total to more than 8,000 Friday.
Half of the state’s total deaths were Hoosiers living in long-term care facilities.
State health officials say there are an additional 355 suspected COVID-19 deaths – where a test wasn’t administered but health care professionals believe the person had the virus.
The rate of newly reported deaths has continued its exponential climb in the last three months. From June to September, the state averaged about 11 deaths per day. The average grew to 24 in October, 53 in November, to 72 in December.
Indiana surpassed 500,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases Tuesday. The state's case growth has remained steady for about two months.
Indiana reported 100,000 new COVID-19 cases in 19 days, following a similar pattern to the previous two months.
In that same time period, positive cases continued to outpace new tests. Cases increased by nearly 24 percent, and testing grew by 17.3 percent.
Of the state’s 526,071 total positive cases as of Sunday, 77.6 percent were reported after the state moved to Stage 5 of its reopening plan, in late September.
In the last week – including the holiday weekend – the Indiana Department of Health reported more than 32,000 new cases.
A study at Indiana University aims to shed light on so-called COVID-19 immunity, after a person has been infected or after being vaccinated. Studies like this one could also help shape what the COVID-19 vaccine response looks like.
The Aegis Study will include more than 2,000 participants from around the country; some who have been infected with COVID-19, some who have not, and some who have been vaccinated against the virus. Besides looking at virus immunity, the study will also look into reinfections and whether long-term immunity is feasible.
Kevin Maki is the study coordinator. He says a study like this is particularly important because there is still so much we don’t know about COVID-19 and how it will affect people long term.
“A lot of people think oh, I’ve had COVID, and now I’m done with it,” Maki said. “And we hope that’s true, but we don’t know it’s true. With common cold coronaviruses, we know people can get reinfected with the same virus, after six months or a year, or sometimes a little bit longer.”
He said studies like the Aegis Study help us understand what COVID-19 immunity looks like and that could affect what our vaccine response looks like as well – will vaccines be a once-in-a-lifetime inoculation, like polio? Or will it be more like a yearly flu shot? Will we need boosters? And if so, when?
The Indiana General Assembly’s 2021 session is set to begin Monday, with many unanswered questions about how it will go amid the ongoing global pandemic.
But one certainty, it seems, is that it will be dominated – both directly and indirectly – by COVID-19.
The tone of the session was set on Organization Day in November, when leaders of both parties talked about the lessons learned from COVID-19 and how they would influence lawmakers’ agendas.
House Speaker Todd Huston (R-Fishers) said he’s learned that the Hoosier State’s poor public health has had a disproportionately negative impact during the pandemic.
“We have to create incentives and policies to help Hoosiers be healthier," Huston said. "And the House Republican caucus will bring legislation forward this session to do just that.”
Debates Indiana lawmakers have been having for years will once again surface in the 2021 session, including whether to raise the state’s cigarette tax. But that issue may find new life thanks to viewing it through a new lens: the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lawmakers have debated an increase in the cigarette tax for half a decade. It’s even passed one chamber – the House – multiple times but never reached the finish line.
Yet its chances look better than ever amid the COVID-19 pandemic, both as a way to improve public health and as a revenue generator.
House Democratic Leader Phil GiaQuinta (D-Fort Wayne) has long supported raising the tax. But he said the key will be how lawmakers use the money.
“I just don’t want it to go back into the General Fund or something like that," GiaQuinta said. "I’d like to really see some concrete programs that we’re going to use the money for to improve the health of Hoosiers.”
Businesses could stand to lose billions of dollars from lawsuits related to COVID-19. The Indiana Chamber’s top priority for the upcoming legislative session will be to provide businesses some protections.
Business owners worry about lawsuits from employees claiming they brought COVID-19 home from work and infected those living with them. The so-called “take-home” cases rely on previous legal arguments made in asbestos litigation.
Chamber president Kevin Brinegar said lawsuits are being filed at both the state and federal level. He said state lawmakers need to pass legislation to protect Hoosier businesses and institutions.
“We can't have employers, schools, health care facilities, being sued and bombarded with lawsuits because someone was in their facility a week, two weeks ago, has now contracted COVID and is claiming that they caught it at that facility, when we have no idea what other places and interactions those individuals have had since that time,” said Brinegar.