First published November 4, 2020 in TheStatehouseFile.com
On the heels of his re-election win, Gov. Eric Holcomb addressed questions Wednesday about whether Hoosiers can expect more restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19.
In short: No, for now. Holcomb opened his weekly virtual press briefing by calling rumors he could impose more restrictions, like issuing a new stay-at-home order and closing schools, as misinformation. Indiana will continue with Stage 5 of its Back on Track reopening plan, Holcomb said, so long as the state’s hospitals are prepared to handle spiking cases and hospitalizations. He also emphasized that his administration’s decisions about the pandemic aren’t politically motivated.
“The only campaign that we’re running here is a campaign to try and save lives,” Holcomb said.
Indiana set a new record for COVID-19 cases reported in a single day Wednesday, adding another 3,756 cases and bringing the total to 191,764. And for the second consecutive day, hospitalizations related to COVID-19 peaked with some 1,897 reported hospitalizations. The state also reported 25 new deaths, continuing a devastating trend that saw 701 total Hoosiers die in October and 4,224 since the beginning of the pandemic.
But Holcomb and Indiana State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box said they remain confident Indiana can handle the surge at this time. To keep up that confidence, though, Box said hospitals need more support staff to handle the influx of COVID-19 patients. She noted some hospitals are again suspending elective surgeries to help treat those sickened by the virus and urged licensed healthcare professionals to volunteer to assist.
“They are frankly exhausted,” Box said of healthcare workers. “They are quarantined, or in family quarantine. They’re juggling family issues just like the rest of us…and some have even lost coworkers and family members to this disease. This all takes an incredible toll.”
The National Guard deployed to help 149 long-term care facilities this week, which have been hit especially hard by the pandemic because of the vulnerable populations they serve. The goal has been to help staff at the facilities do their jobs by assisting with visitor screenings and making sure buildings adhere to guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control. More members of the National Guard are expected to deploy next week.
The state also continues to explore how to deliver a COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available. Though many unknowns remain, ISDH Chief Medical Officer Dr. Lindsey Weaver said Indiana is still preparing for the first vaccines to arrive as early as this month, per direction from the federal government, and is currently looking for five pilot sites where those vaccines might be administered. Weaver also reiterated any vaccine released will go through a rigorous review process by the state before it is given to the public.
Until then, however, state leaders continue to urge Hoosiers to wear their masks, follow social distancing guidelines and practice good hygiene – a line that has been repeated multiple times at each COVID-19 briefing in response to questions about why the state has no plans for added restrictions, like those seen in the spring.
But that’s continued to be a difficult sell for some areas of the state, Box explained. That includes Fountain County, one of three high-risk counties identified by a red label on the state’s COVID-19 dashboard for its rising positivity rate. Fountain County has been labeled a red county twice now, and Wednesday, Box spoke to a continued resistance there from people who don’t want to wear masks and follow other guidelines.
“It takes buy-in from everybody in the community to work together, whether that’s the hospital system or the officials,” Box said.
Box said the Indiana Department of Homeland Security continues to help in educating the public about COVID-19 safety throughout the state, and Holcomb said local communities are empowered to make decisions that best address what they are experiencing during the pandemic.
“We do work together, from the state and local and federal level,” Holcomb said.
Erica Irish is the 2020 Russell Pulliam student editor for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.