Indiana Daily Student

COVID-19 cases decline in Indiana, restrictions extended for 30 days due to March Madness

<p>A graphic presented Wednesday during Gov. Eric Holcomb&#x27;s virtual COVID-19 pandemic briefing shows the number of vaccinations performed in each state by age. The graph shows that 70% of Hoosiers ages 70-79, the second highest of all eligible age groups, have received vaccinations. </p>

A graphic presented Wednesday during Gov. Eric Holcomb's virtual COVID-19 pandemic briefing shows the number of vaccinations performed in each state by age. The graph shows that 70% of Hoosiers ages 70-79, the second highest of all eligible age groups, have received vaccinations.

Indiana’s current COVID-19 restrictions limiting the size of social gatherings and requiring face coverings will be extended for another 30 days due to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, Gov. Eric Holcomb said in his weekly COVID-19 briefing Wednesday. Holcomb said the state’s positivity rate stood at 4.1% from Monday to Wednesday.

Chief Medical Officer for the Department of Health Dr. Lindsay Weaver said the state will no longer vaccinate people who do not live in Indiana, such as health care workers or first responders who live out of state and work in Indiana. Individuals are required to show a document identifying proof of residency and eligibility, such as a bank statement, utility bill or any other document with an address on it. 

While Indiana’s COVID-19 case and death numbers are trending downward, Holcomb said basketball teams traveling in from other states and audiences coming to watch the game will require an extension of the order to keep residents safe. An executive order detailing COVID-19 restrictions was signed in March 2020 and has been extended by Holcomb every month since.

“From where we were a month ago to where we are today is remarkable,” Holcomb said. “We’re moving in the right direction.”

The Indiana State Department of Health’s county advisory level map lists 39 counties in blue as of Wednesday, indicating low community spread and low positivity rates compared to 11 counties last week. Three counties are in orange, 50 are in yellow and no counties are in red as of Wednesday.

[Related: Monroe County’s COVID-19 status turns blue after decrease in positive test results]

Monroe County turned blue Wednesday following a decrease in positive tests last week. As a blue county, the state recommends no more than 250 people at a social gathering, according to Indiana’s Coronavirus Response Requirements. Monroe County will maintain a yellow advisory until it maintains its blue status for two weeks, according to the website.

Indiana State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box said the cold weather, vaccinations and guidelines have contributed to a decline in cases and deaths, but said she is nervous about the effect of COVID-19 variants on the vaccine’s effectiveness. She said 16 cases of the United Kingdom variant have been identified in Indiana. The U.K. variant spreads more easily and quickly than other variants.

“The important thing is [vaccines] will continue to prevent hospitalizations, severe disease and death,” Box said.

Holcomb announced Tuesday vaccine eligibility has been expanded to Indiana residents 60-years-old and up. Box said 112,000 people in that age group have already scheduled appointments to receive the vaccine, over a quarter of the eligible population in the age group.

As of Wednesday, nearly 921,000 Hoosiers had gotten the first dose of the vaccine and 480,000 were fully vaccinated, Box said. 

Weaver said the state is awaiting word regarding federal authorization of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, which could be approved at a meeting of Food and Drug Administration advisers Friday, so Indiana can distribute more vaccines. Weaver said she doesn’t know how many doses of the vaccine Indiana would receive. She said Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot vaccine is 85% effective, compared to the flu vaccine which is 40% to 60% effective each year.

Box said several clinics around the state have ignored vaccine distribution guidelines, neglecting to follow Indiana directives to administer doses based on age. Box said the Indiana State Department of Health will not distribute additional first-dose vaccines to the facilities not following state distribution guidelines. Box declined to comment on where the facilities that did not follow the directives are located.

“We are not trying to be the vaccine police, but ensure we have ethical access across all 92 counties based on data,” Box said. “We cannot achieve that goal if sites deviate from the guidelines.”

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