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Coronavirus: Senate smooths path to end public emergency, state surpasses 1.4M cases, 19K dead

Since Jan. 1, Indiana has averaged 47 deaths and 12,193.9 cases per day.

Since Jan. 1, Indiana has averaged 47 deaths and 12,193.9 cases per day. (Justin Hicks/IPB News)

The Indiana House scraps its proposal to raise unemployment insurance taxes on employers unwilling to grant vaccine mandates. The state Senate advances a bill to allow the governor to end the public health emergency. And Indiana suprasses both 1.4 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and 19,000 dead.

THE DATA

In the last week, the Indiana Department of Health added 532 new deaths to its total. It surpassed 19,000 confirmed COVID-19 dead on Jan. 10, just two weeks after hitting 18,000.

Deaths in the state peaked at an average of 98 per day in December 2020. But deaths plummeted in summer 2021 to seven deaths per day. After the state’s late-summer delta surge, October 2021’s average was about 30, November was 28.7, and December 2021 has climbed to 52.5 – which is still adding deaths to its total as it takes a little longer to report confirmed deaths.

This increase in deaths is mirrored by the state’s growing COVID-19 hospital census, which officially surpassed its November 2020 peak on Jan. 11. There are currently 3,519 Hoosiers hospitalized because of the virus.

IDOH also reported 97,947 new cases in the last week, adding more than 14,000 new cases five out of seven days. 

That meteoric rise in new cases propelled the state past its most recent milestone – 1.4 million cases – in just one week. It also hit a new single-day record for new cases, reporting 16,563 new cases Thursday.

Since Jan. 1, Indiana has averaged 47 deaths and 12,193.9 cases per day.

With record-breaking daily cases and limited testing, should we still pay attention to cases?

Indiana has set several new records for daily cases since the COVID-19 variant omicron hit the state. Those new cases are straining the state’s ability to test Hoosiers, meaning more positive cases are falling through the cracks. 

Experts say despite that it’s still important to pay attention to case numbers.

Since Jan. 1, Indiana has reported nearly 160,000 new cases. And that was largely expected, considering the state’s low vaccination rates and how the omicron variant has moved through Europe and South Africa.

Join the conversation and sign up for the Indiana Two-Way. Text "Indiana" to 73224. Your comments and questions in response to our weekly text help us find the answers you need on COVID-19 and other statewide issues.

But if more cases are falling through the cracks, is that still a valuable metric to watch? Micah Pollak, an associate professor of economics at Indiana University Northwest, said yes. 

“If you think about, like a COVID wave as being like a wave in the ocean, I mean, paying attention to cases is when you’re standing on the beach looking out to sea and you see something happening out there,” Pollak said. “Hospitalizations are much more, kind of real and meaningful variable, but that’s something you get when you’re standing in the wave right as it’s coming up to your shoulders. Right? And the deaths are once you’re under the water.”

What are monoclonal antibodies, and how are they used to treat COVID-19?

As the omicron variant pushes COVID-19 case counts to new highs, Side Effects and Indiana Public Broadcasting have received audience questions about coronavirus treatments, including monoclonal antibodies.

To get answers to your questions, Side Effects Public Media’s Jake Harper spoke with Dr. Myron Cohen, a professor of medicine, microbiology and epidemiology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Want to join the conversation? Text “health” to 73224 to join Side Effects Public Media’s text group, The Midwest Checkup; and text “Indiana” to 73224 to join Indiana Public Broadcasting’s group, The Indiana Two-Way.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Jake Harper: To start with something super basic: What is an antibody? 

Dr. Myron Cohen: An antibody is the product of a cell called a B-cell. In the context of COVID, we'd like the antibodies to bind to the virus and neutralize it. The way an antibody neutralizes the virus is by preventing it from attaching to the cell it's seeking.

THE STATE’S RESPONSE

Senate panel OKs bill smoothing path for governor to end public health emergency

Gov. Eric Holcomb could end the state’s public health emergency without jeopardizing millions in federal funding under a bill approved by a Senate committee Wednesday.

Unlike the House’s version, the Senate bill – SB 3 – does not include anything about COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

The federal government increased funding for several programs during the pandemic. That includes access to Medicaid for more Hoosiers and boosts to the monthly allowance for Hoosiers on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), often called food stamps.

The bill comes at Holcomb's request, who has indicated he wants to end the state’s public health emergency. The state is also in the midst of the worst surge of the virus since the pandemic began.

Employer penalty removed as Indiana vaccine mandate bill moves ahead in the House

The Indiana House scrapped a proposal to raise unemployment insurance taxes as a penalty to employers unwilling to grant vaccine exemptions. But, they still want Hoosiers who are fired for vaccine status to be eligible to draw benefits from a pot of money funded by all Indiana employers.

In House Bill 1001, House Republicans sought a way to punish employers who didn’t follow their rules forcing employers to grant a variety of exemptions to COVID-19 vaccination. Lawmakers wanted to make unvaccinated workers eligible for unemployment benefits and raise contributions from those employers to make up for the increased costs.

The Indiana Department of Workforce Development currently grants unemployment benefits to unvaccinated workers on a case-by-case basis and only when it deems employers have an unreasonable policy. Language in HB 1001 specifies broadly that workers who are denied exemptions are eligible for benefits.

'Why are you telling me how to run my business?' HB 1001 frustrates, confuses some employers

Strange Brew Coffee in Greenwood is one of countless Indiana businesses hit hardby the latest surge in omicron cases.

Owner Toni Carr had to cut back hours this week after multiple staff members called in with positive COVID-19 tests.

“Right now, we're actually only open ’til noon for a few days,” said Carr. “It's been hard, a lot of open to close seven days a week.”

She’s thankful her staff chose to get vaccinated as soon as shots became available. So the change in hours should only be temporary, thanks to the updated CDC guidelines for vaccinated individuals.

She’d like to require new employees to be vaccinated, for the sake of their health and keeping business operations smooth. But a bill quickly making its way through the state House of Representativeswould effectively bar her from doing so.

“We've gone from saying, ‘You have free choice, the business should be able to decide to do what they want,’ and now it’s, ‘We don't want you to be able to require vaccines,’” Carr said. “Why are you telling me how to run my business?”

Holcomb delivers sixth State of the State address

Gov. Eric Holcomb gave Hoosiers a “progress report” Tuesday in his annual State of the State address.

The speech was a recitation of Holcomb’s recently-announced agenda, yielding no new announcements or surprises.

To close his address, Holcomb made another impassioned plea for Hoosiers to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

“I say this, even if you’ve disagreed with every position I’ve taken because I want us both to be around to continue to have those disagreements,” Holcomb said.

Indiana is one of the worst states in the country for the percentage of its population vaccinated against the virus. It also reported its highest ever COVID-19 hospital census Tuesday, breaking the record set in November 2020.

Democrats said the governor was “alarmingly silent” on confronting the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.

House Minority Leader Phil GiaQuinta (D-Fort Wayne) said he does appreciate Holcomb staying away from “divisive social issues.”

“The governor does not have, though – I didn’t see – much of a roadmap for 2022,” GiaQuinta said.

Democratic leaders are advocating for immediate investments in affordable child care and health, as well as pushing for an increased minimum wage and legalized cannabis.

Legislative Republicans, they argue, are instead focused on curbing COVID-19 vaccine mandates and restricting how challenging subjects are taught in the classroom.

Indiana government leaders react to Supreme Court vaccine mandate opinions

Gov. Eric Holcomb said he “respects” two opinions issued from the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday. One blocked vaccine requirements for large employers. Another upheld requirements for health care workers in medical facilities that receive federal dollars.

Holcomb said in a statement he still believes a COVID-19 vaccine is the “number one tool” to protect Hoosiers. But he also contends neither state nor federal government should issue vaccination requirements on businesses.

Attorney General Todd Rokita said in a statement the court correctly decided against the “intrusive federal overreach of the OSHA rule.”

HEADLINES

IU Health awards Ivy Tech $8.75M to increase capacity for nursing programs

IU Health is giving Ivy Tech Community College $8.75 million to expand its nursing programs across the state to address a growing shortage of nurses in health care facilities.

The funds are earmarked to increase nursing student enrollment and support services and increase recruitment and compensation for faculty and staff. Ivy Tech has a goal to admit 600 more nursing students each year by 2025.

Based on past trends, it estimates 90 percent of those graduates will stay in the state.

Mary Jane Michalak is vice president of public affairs for the statewide community college network. She said, due to limited teaching staff and clinical sites, Ivy Tech had to turn away around 300 students this academic year who were qualified to start a nursing program.

Ivy Tech, Beacon Health partnership aims to combat nursing shortage

Beacon Health System and Ivy Tech Community College are partnering to combat the nursing shortage in northern Indiana.

Sarah Paturalski, vice president of nursing at Beacon's Memorial Hospital, said the country has been battling a shortage for the better part of a decade, and is set to hit a deficit of 1.2 million nurses this year.

“We need more than we have today, and we want to make it as easy as possible for people to enter the profession,” she said.

Starting this fall, nursing students at Ivy Tech can enroll in the Beacon Scholars program, which offers tuition assistance, living stipends and future employment at Beacon facilities.

Beacon will also invest in facility improvements at Ivy Tech and provide two nurses to join the faculty in hybrid roles.

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

For the latest news and resources about COVID-19, bookmark our Coronavirus In Indiana page here

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