First published January 27, 2021 in TheStatehouseFile.com
State leaders continue to roll out the COVID-19 vaccine as cases decline and as the National Guard leaves nursing homes after helping them manage disease spread.
Gov. Eric Holcomb announced these and other updates in a weekly briefing on the pandemic, starting with good news: Indiana’s COVID-19 positivity trend is declining, going from 16.5% early this month to 9.1%. Daily hospital admissions are also dropping, though more data are being collected.
Hoosiers continue to die from the virus, however, with the state recording 40 new deaths Wednesday. That’s an increase of 200 from last week, totaling 9,470 deaths in Indiana. The state is also bracing for new strains of the virus that have emerged around the world.
Dr. Kristina Box, commissioner of the Indiana Department of Health, said an average of 1900 people were hospitalized with symptoms as of yesterday. Box said that’s the lowest number when it comes to hospitalizations Indiana has seen since November.
Elderly Hoosiers continue to receive vaccines, too. As of today, 477,326 people have received their first shot, and 112,885 are fully vaccinated.
“As excited as we are to see these improvements, I caution Hoosiers that our work is far from over,” Box said. “In order to continue to move in the right direction, it is absolutely critical that Hoosiers adhere to the current current guidance in their counties.”
To date, Indiana has received 809,400 doses of the vaccine. Holcomb said Indiana will soon be receiving increased shipments of the vaccine, bringing in 13,000 additional COVID-19 vaccine doses per week. Indiana will continue deciding who gets the shot first based on age.
So far, 51% of people 80 or older have been vaccinated alongside 57% of those 70 and older. Around 60% of healthcare workers and first responders have also been vaccinated. Dr. Lindsay Weaver, chief medical officer for the Indiana Department of Health, said that since Dec. 18, more than one million Hoosiers have scheduled vaccine appointments.
“We have a lot of work still ahead of us. We are working to make scheduling an appointment as easy as possible,” Weaver said.
At the moment, Indiana has 200 sites to administer the COVID-19 vaccine. But it has been difficult for Hoosiers to quickly find days for appointments as the next available dates are in March, Weaver said.
Elders who have an appointment in March will receive a call and email from the state’s 2-1-1 service to schedule an earlier date if one becomes available.
Stores such as Meijer, Kroger and Walmart will also begin to provide vaccine appointments to help, and around 236 libraries throughout Indiana are receiving training to help assist individuals when scheduling their COVID-19 vaccine appointment. This will help local healthcare providers focus on administering the vaccine only.
Only those who fit the eligibility criteria are allowed to make an appointment.
Daniel Rusyniak, chief medical officer of the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration, said the Indiana National Guard, which has been supporting healthcare workers since November, is working on a strategy to have its service members return to their civilian jobs or to transition to other missions. The support will conclude after the employees of the facilities have been given their second shot of the vaccine.
This will begin on Jan. 31 and will continue weekly until 80% of the service members are out of the facilities by Feb. 22. After that, all of them will leave no later than March 15.
“These soldiers put the lives of those who work and reside in our nursing homes ahead of their own as they left their jobs, their homes and their families to help in the state’s COVID-19 response,” Rusyniak said.
Outside of healthcare, Indiana’s unemployment rate is also improving. The rate decreased from a high of 16.9% back in April to 4.3% in January.
Indiana Department of Workforce Development Commissioner Fred Payne warned of scammers who are trying to steal information to apply for unemployment benefits, potentially hurting people who truly need assistance. Payne said scammers are finding personal information through social media or the dark web, and others are lying on their applications.
This influx in scams forced the department to spend more time processing applications, now up to three weeks so staff can conduct more thorough background searches when vetting applications.
“Our commitment is to ensure that we pay every eligible Hoosier the benefits that they’re entitled to, not the fraudsters,” Payne said.
The next press conference will be held Feb. 3.
Carolina Puga Mendoza is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.