INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana is in a good place regarding COVID-19, but Gov. Eric Holcomb isn’t going to roll back the defense just yet.
With college basketball’s March Madness coming to the state, Holcomb rolled into his trademark habit of dropping basketball references to talk about where Indiana is and why it’s not making a change yet.
“We want to make sure we stay moving the ball upcourt, not squandering this place,” Holcomb said. “So that requires us to continue to play offense and defense.”
Holcomb announced that he will extend the state’s county-based restrictions and public health emergency for another 30 days to get the state through Indianapolis hosting the entirety of the NCAA basketball tournament. The finals are scheduled to end April 5.
But the one-month extension didn’t stop Holcomb from taking time to recognize how far the state has come since the beginning of the year and how good the situation is looking right now.
“We have made remarkable progress in a relatively short period of time, this is not a mission accomplished moment, far from it, but there is no denying it,” Holcomb said.
“I think about our hospitalizations. It wasn’t too long ago we were 3,300-plus and in January that number was 1,915. Yesterday we were at 886, I think,” Holcomb said. “So yes, we have come down. Our positivity rate, seven-day average positivity rate was not too long ago over 9%. Now we’re at 4.1% for the last three days.”
In late February, Indiana was seeing case counts, positivity rates, hospitalizations and deaths all similar to where they were in September, which was the state’s best month for the virus.
But state officials are bearing in mind that while September was one of Indiana’s best months, as the weather turned, the state saw its worst spike ever between October and the new year, with all metrics shooting to record highs over three months.
“We want to make sure counties can continue to be open,” Holcomb said. “We recognize we’re in a good place right now and moving in the right direction.”
Indiana State Health Commissioner Dr. Kris Box agreed, taking time to recognize all of the positive signals the state is seeing but exercising caution in declaring victory.
Box noted that variants of the COVID-19 virus continue to circulate globally, and although Indiana has seen only about a dozen cases of United Kingdom variant, which appears to be stopped by current vaccines, current shots may not be as effective against other variants like the Brazil or South Africa strains.
Therefore, Hoosiers should continue to remain vigilant as vaccine distribution continues to protect more and more people.
“Now is not the time to abandon the protections we’ve put in place,” Box said. “This is not the time to throw caution to the wind if we want to cross the finish line.”
Vaccine rollout continues to run briskly across the state, with more than 920,000 Hoosiers who have received at least their first dose of a vaccine. That represents about 13.7% of the total population.
Box noted that Indiana has received all of its vaccine doses that were previously delayed by winter weather the week of Feb. 15 and is back on schedule for receiving its normal weekly allotments.
Indiana was able to expand eligibility last week to Hoosiers age 60-64 and has plans in place to expand incrementally to people 50 years old and older in the coming weeks.
Indiana State Department of Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Lindsay Weaver reiterated that Hoosiers 50-plus account for about 35% of the total state population but account for about 80% of all hospitalizations and approximately 98% of all deaths to date in the state.
The vaccination program gained momentum Feb. 27 when the Food and Drug Administration approved Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose vaccine for emergency use. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has shown about 85% efficacy against COVID-19, a little lower than Pfizer and Moderna vaccines that were about 95%, but that showed no hospitalizations or deaths more than 30 days out after injection.
“This is an amazingly effective vaccine,” Weaver said of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Johnson & Johnson had said it could ship up to 2 million doses of vaccine almost immediately. It’s unclear how much Indiana would get, but any increase in allotments to the state will help speed up distribution and allow the state to open up eligibility quicker, Weaver said.
Indiana has also recently made a change into who could get the vaccine, stopping access from people who live outside of the state.
Indiana originally allowed people who live outside the state to obtain a vaccine if they work here, but in order to ensure Hoosiers get the vaccine first, the state is cutting off access to those who live outside the borders.
That being said, the state won’t be limiting vaccine access by county, Box said.
Some rural counties have noted that their clinics have been overloaded by people coming from metro areas to get vaccines, thus squeezing out local populations until longer. Hoosiers are able to sign up and get a shot at any location and are not limited to one in their county of residence.
Box said the state wants to maintain the option for people to travel locally to get vaccines so people can go to a locale that’s convenient for them but also available.