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Get the latest on the global Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic as it impacts Northwest Indiana, the state, country, and globe. Bookmark this page as there will be several updates each day from Lakeshore Public Radio, IPB News, NPR, and the Associated Press.

Coronavirus: Indiana Surpasses 5,000 Deaths, GOP Rejects Indiana House Mask Mandate

Justin Hicks
IPB News

The Indiana State Department of Health reported 311 additional confirmed deaths over the last week – the most reported in a single week during the pandemic. That brings the state’s total to 5,040 confirmed deaths.

Indiana set new record highs for eight consecutive weeks, but did not surpass Nov. 14’s record of more than 8,000 new cases this week. Though it did still report 43,760 new COVID-19 cases.

The state has reported more than 5,000 cases every day since Nov. 10.

Sunday’s seven-day moving average is nearly 630 percent higher than the rolling average when Indiana began Stage 5. The state’s hospital census has also set new highs over the last five days, with more than 3,000 Hoosiers hospitalized with COVID-19 since Nov. 17. The state began reporting hospital census data on April 8.

Here are your statewide COVID-19 headlines from last week.

Indiana Hits 5,000 Confirmed COVID-19 Deaths, 1,000 Reported In Just 24 Days

As of Sunday, 5,040 Hoosiers have died from COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic. The most recent 1,000 confirmed deaths were reported over the span of just 24 days.

State health officials say there are an additional 265 suspected COVID-19 deaths – where a test wasn’t administered but health care professionals believe the person had the virus.

The rate of newly reported deaths has continued to climb in the last several weeks. After averaging around 10 deaths per day in late summer, the state is now averaging more than 30 dead per day for the last month.

Hospital Diversions Don't Mean Patients Can't Seek Emergency Care

As COVID-19 numbers continue to surge across the state, more hospitals are forced to send non-emergency patients elsewhere. But that doesn’t mean local hospitals will stop caring for patients needing urgent care. 

You might hear the terms "diversion" and "bypass" when talking about hospitals during this pandemic. This means hospitals are very limited or have very limited resources to take in patients who need to stay overnight. Hoosier hospitals are seeing record hospitalizations and lack of resources to help take care of those patients, especially staff.

Hospitals such as Memorial Hospital in South Bend cannot currently accept transfers from other hospitals and have had to reschedule some elective surgeries. 

Sarah Jones is the chief nursing officer with Franciscan Health in Michigan City. She said regardless of a hospital’s diversion status, ambulances will still take patients to the nearest hospital – especially if timing is critical, like a heart attack for example. Patients can also still seek urgent medical care there, too. 

“Please, if you do have a concern that you feel warrants treatment, don’t put it off because of fear of COVID,” Jones said. 

Health Care Workers Overwhelmed, Emotional Toll Of COVID-19 ‘Long-Lasting’

Indiana health care workers say they’re no longer the front line of attack in the fight against COVID-19 – they’re the last line of defense as the spread of the virus worsens.

Sarah Paturalski is the vice president of nursing at Memorial Hospital in South Bend. She said the pandemic – and its latest surge – has created the worst nursing shortages they’ve ever seen.

“There are patients that, unfortunately, we can’t meet their needs right now because we’re inundated,” Paturalski said. “We have an abundance of patients – more than we can, quite frankly, handle right now.”

READ MORE: Hoosier Hospitals Bear Brunt Of COVID-19 Surge: ‘It’s About To Become A Catastrophe’

Paturalski said health care workers are also struggling with the numbers of deaths. She said while they’re used to dealing with death and dying, these levels are not what they’re used to.

“We’ve taken a vow for no one to die alone … and sometimes this means that we are their family members and we are holding their hands as they pass – when just moments before, we tried to save them,” Paturalski said.

Dr. Box To College Students Coming Home: Act Like You've Been Exposed To COVID-19

Indiana’s top health official says every college student heading home from school should act like they’ve been exposed to COVID-19.

State Health Commissioner Dr. Kris Box said the percentage of cases among 18- to 30-year-olds is rising – a troubling sign, she said, as colleges prepare to send students home for break.

“When you get home, plan to spend those 14 days in quarantine, even in your own home," Box said. "Wear a mask, even in your own home. Don’t see your grandma or other elderly relatives until you complete that 14-day period without any symptoms.”

Republicans Reject Indiana House Mask Mandate

Republicans rejected an effort Tuesday to require House lawmakers to wear masks during the upcoming legislative session.

Democrats proposed a House rule to require members to wear a mask while on the floor, in the hall or in committee and conducting official House business or potentially face a fine, censure or other penalty.

Rep. Matt Lehman (R-Berne) called the proposal a “slippery slope.”

“And I don’t want to go down the path where your individual actions, I can bring you on this House floor and censure you," Lehman said. "Right now, that’s reserved for the most heinous things, which are you don’t do your duty.”

Rep. Ed DeLaney (D-Indianapolis) was furious.

“Well, if we shut down because we play this game and become a hotspot, will we have done our job to the public?” DeLaney said.

Indiana Democrats Say Legislature Unprepared For Session Amid COVID-19

Democrats say the General Assembly is not prepared to safely conduct its legislative session in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Republican legislative leaders say they haven’t decided on any COVID-19 testing or screening procedures for lawmakers during session. They also haven’t determined a threshold for when the session might need to shut down temporarily because of positive cases.

Leaders said Tuesday members won’t be allowed to participate in committee hearings virtually. And Speaker Todd Huston (R-Fishers) said lawmakers must be in-person to vote on legislation.

Rep. Robin Shackleford (D-Indianapolis) says lawmakers aren’t prepared for the realities of a session amid COVID-19.

“I think the leadership just wants to do the bare minimum and still go ahead and proceed with session,” Shackleford said.

Holcomb Tests Negative For COVID-19, Remains In Quarantine After Exposure

Gov. Eric Holcomb will continue quarantining after being exposed to COVID-19, despite negative test results Friday.

The governor’s office Tuesday announced several members of the governor’s security detail tested positive. State Health Commissioner Dr. Kris Box advised both Holcomb and his wife Janet to begin quarantine immediately.

The Holcombs had both a rapid Abbott test and the more accurate PCR test for COVID-19 and both came back negative. Neither of them have symptoms. The governor's office said the Holcombs won't get tested again unless they develop symptoms, based on the advice of the state health commissioner.

COVID-19 Liability Protections Are A Top Legislative Priority In 2021 Session

Indiana legislative leaders say liability protections around COVID-19 could be the first order of business when the General Assembly starts its new session.

The proposed concept – already being enacted in some states – would provide businesses, non-profits, schools and health care facilities with protections from civil lawsuits. For example, if a person visited a store and then got the virus, they couldn’t turn around and sue that store owner.

Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray (R-Martinsville) said it’s a top priority for the 2021 session.

“It’s important to try and build back in some confidence to our companies and our charitable organizations and even some other, like, governmental entities so that they feel like they can get back out there and get back to work,” Bray said.

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