Coronavirus: Indiana Works To Expand Testing, Lawmakers Plan To Preserve School Funding

Sep 13, 2021

Concert goers were asked to show proof of vaccination and wear masks as the delta variant continues to drive new COVID-19 cases in Indiana.
Credit Lauren Chapman / IPB News

Indiana’s COVID-19 cases dip slightly following Labor Day weekend. Gov. Eric Holcomb says the Biden administration’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate is a “bridge too far.” And the Indiana Department of Health hires a company to help expand testing as demand continues to rise.

THE DATA

This week’s daily cases average decreased for the first time since July 1. But while the number of new cases dropped significantly from Labor Day weekend, by the end of the week, Indiana set new record-breaking totals, 5,476 new confirmed cases, which is the highest since Jan. 9. 

Indiana’s hospital census reached 2,617 – the highest since Jan. 8. And Indiana added 209 new cases to its total, with 133 reported since Sept. 3. 

THE STATE’S RESPONSE

Top Lawmakers Announce Plan To Preserve School Funding Despite Student Quarantines

Indiana lawmakers will address concerns from school leaders about a possible loss of funding because of the high number of children forced to quarantine so far this school year.

In a letter sent to schools Friday, Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray (R-Martinsville) and House Speaker Todd Huston (R-Fishers) outlined a plan for lawmakers and the Indiana Department of Education to ensure full funding for students learning in-person during the fall semester.

Indiana Aims To Increase COVID-19 Testing Capacity, Hires New Company

Indiana is hiring a new company to help increase COVID-19 testing across the state.

That comes amid a surge of cases – the state Friday reported its highest number of positives in a day since early January.

The state’s contract with Kentucky-based Gravity Diagnostics will run through June of next year, with an option to extend it further if needed. Gravity will provide supplies and staffing to increase capacity by up to 5,000 tests per day. That includes both rapid antigen testing and PCR tests.

In the coming weeks, the state and Gravity will establish up to 45 sites around the state, targeting communities that currently lack testing resources.

Holcomb Calls Biden COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate 'A Bridge Too Far'

Gov. Eric Holcomb said President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate is a “bridge too far.”

Holcomb’s comments come after Biden announced all businesses with 100 or more employees have to ensure that every worker is either vaccinated for COVID-19 or submit to weekly testing for the virus.

Holcomb has long been a proponent of the COVID-19 vaccine, repeatedly urging Hoosiers to get it and calling it the “way out” of the pandemic.

Holcomb calls citizens’ right to choose whether to get the vaccine “fundamental.”

THE HEADLINES

As Emergency Rooms Overflow, Hospital Officials Say Of Breaking Point: ‘We’re There’

Hospital officials from IU Health Arnett and Franciscan Health said Thursday both facilities have reached a breaking point. 

Emergency rooms have been full from a mixture of COVID-19, injuries, and unrelated illnesses for weeks. Hospitals are short-staffed and facing mounting employee burnout. 

In a call with reporters, IU Health Arnett’s Dr. Jim Bien said there may be a place for a mask mandate – but that’s up to county commissioners. 

“We have challenged them, asked them to think about how policy might complement the advice, and cajoling and recommendations and common sense we have been trying to encourage,” he said.

Bien urged the community – and commissioners – to do more. 

Regenstrief Study: Black And Rural Hoosiers Hit Hardest By COVID-19 In Hospitalizations And Deaths

A study published by Regenstrief Institute in Indianapolis shows that Black and rural communities were disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

The study is largest of its kind, taking data from 1.8 million Hoosiers tested for COVID-19 between March 2020 and December 2020.

Brian Dixon is a research scientist at the Regenstrief Institute and led the study. He said in terms of deaths rural areas were hit the hardest, while in terms of hospitalizations, Black and brown Hoosiers were most affected.

“And we’re seeing now, other communities, particularly rural communities where there isn’t a lot of uptake in the vaccine be hit hard by the delta variant,” Dixon said.

All IN: Nurse Staffing Shortage

Nurses have seen the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic over the past year, and with the spread of the more infectious delta variant, how are nurses handling more hospitalizations on top of an ongoing nurse shortage.

All IN heard from nurses across the state to find out what they’re seeing in hospitals and how they’re doing right now. They also learn how the nursing shortage during the pandemic could impact the future of nursing. Plus, they talk to the dean of the IU Nursing School to find out how students are being prepared to enter the field during the pandemic.

READ MORE: How Is Indiana Distributing COVID-19 Vaccines? Here's What You Need To Know

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Court Hears Arguments On Emergency Powers Law's Constitutionality

It’s now up to Indiana courts to decide whether a new emergency powers law is unconstitutional. Attorneys for Gov. Eric Holcomb and the General Assembly faced off in court Friday to make their arguments.

The law, HEA 1123, allows the legislature to call itself into session during a public emergency – like, for instance, the COVID-19 pandemic. Holcomb sued, arguing the law is a breach of separation of powers.

Marion County Judge Patrick Dietrick said he will try to rule on the case “expeditiously.” Regardless of that outcome, the case will be appealed, likely to the Indiana Supreme Court.

All IN: The History of Vaccine Laws and Mandates

Indiana has set some precedent when it comes to vaccine mandates, and the pandemic has many businesses and institutions scrambling to find the right balance. So, what are the laws when it comes to vaccines and mandates and how do they get decided?

They talk to an expert about vaccination laws and the history behind them. They also find out where consent comes into play with vaccines such as the rights of teens to get vaccinated without parental consent.

Nearly A Dozen BMV Offices Temporarily Close Due To Staffing Shortage

As of Sept. 7, almost a dozen Bureau of Motor Vehicles offices throughout the state will be closed until Oct. 2 due to staffing shortages. 

The affected offices are located in Alexandria, Danville, Evansville, Indianapolis (Madison Avenue), Greenfield, Nappanee, New Albany, New Haven, Pendleton, Schererville and Walkerton.

Staff at those offices are being reassigned because the agency has had trouble filling 60 to 80 positions. Adding to that, anywhere between 10 to 15 percent of the workforce is consistently out due to COVID-19 precautions.

Contact Lauren at lchapman@wfyi.org or follow her on Twitter at @laurenechapman_.