“Last Friday, after all of our vaccinating hospitals received their first shipment of the Pfizer vaccine, the state of Indiana began vaccinating thousands of healthcare Hoosiers daily,” chief medical officer Dr. Lindsay Weaver said at Gov. Eric Holcomb’s weekly virtual COVID-19 press conference Tuesday.
“We witness tears of joy, excitement and, above all, brief relief that we are one step closer to being on the other side of this pandemic.”
The 40,000 vaccines cover one-tenth of Indiana’s healthcare workforce, which Weaver said is about 400,000. The state has received about 94,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, with the Moderna vaccine being approved for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration on Friday. Long-term care workers and residents will get vaccinated starting Dec. 28.
State health commissioner Dr. Kristina Box said even with vaccines rolling out, Hoosiers need to practice safety precautions.
“We just have so much hope right now with the vaccine, and I’m just afraid people are going to get vaccinated and take off their masks or just assume, ‘Hey, we’re just a month or two out from this,’” Box said. “This is going to take a while for us to get everybody vaccinated, to really see a change.”
COVID-19 totals for the state continue to steadily increase. As of Tuesday, there were 3,758 new positive cases and 143 additional deaths in the state. There have been a total 471,876 positive cases, 7,244 deaths and 337 probable deaths since March in Indiana.
The state will be adjusting the way the seven-day positivity rate is calculated, Box said, resulting in a 2-3% increase in the state positivity rate and mixed changes to county rates next week. Box said smaller counties will likely see a decrease in their seven-day positivity rates.
Seven-day positivity rates will be calculated using the number of positive tests in a week divided by the total number of weekly tests. This change shouldn’t affect any other metrics on the Indiana State Department of Health website.
Sen. Todd Young discussed the extensive new federal stimulus bill, which includes $600 per individual, money for vaccine development, and distribution and funding for education, childcare, unemployment insurance, and business relief as well as a one-month extension of the eviction moratorium and one-year extension for state usage of Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funds.
Young said the $82 billion in education funding and $10 billion in childcare dollars will help keep children in a safe, enriching environment while ensuring parents can stay in the workforce.
The $600 federal payment for individuals is half the amount in stimulus checks sent out over the summer, which Young said was a quick deal to aid those in need.
“This package and all the provisions in the package were just a function of compromise,” Young said. “And oftentimes, you try and do the best you can with the resources you think are needed to get people through, you know, the next few months, and then we can reassess how Hoosiers and other Americans are doing and then what their needs are at that point.”
The new stimulus package does not provide aid to states and cities, but Young said assistance will come to the local level in Indiana, and he will be advocating for liability protections for employers, schools and healthcare providers. Young also said the bill focuses more on individuals than entities.
Concerns over an increase in the spread of COVID-19 grow as Christmas and New Year’s Eve draw nearer.
Box said younger individuals are making up a larger percentage of COVID-19 cases, which could lead to more hospitalizations after the holidays, when older, more at-risk individuals could be exposed.
“I’m very concerned about what will happen over Christmas, in New Years’ time, and really want Hoosiers to be very, very careful and to really follow the social distancing, wearing your mask and, as much as possible, limit your celebration to those individuals that are in your household,” Box said.
With controversy circling over elected officials getting vaccinated before some healthcare workers, Young and Holcomb both said they are waiting to get the vaccine until more vulnerable populations have had the opportunity. However, Young said some officials are vaccinated for the continuity of government and to affirm to others the safety and efficacy of the vaccine.
The Indiana State Department of Health COVID-19 map will be updated with country metrics and advisory levels at noon Wednesday. Usually, this update would happen before the governor’s press conference, but the conference was switched to Tuesday to avoid clashing with the holidays.
The governor’s next virtual COVID-19 press conference is at 2:30 p.m. Dec. 30.
Taylor Wooten is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.