Coronavirus: Indiana Starts 2021 With COVID-19 Improvements, But Vaccine Rollout Slows
The Indiana Department of Health reported 404 additional confirmed deaths over the last week. That brings the state’s total to 9,340 confirmed deaths. The state also reported more than 20,500 new cases in the last week – the smallest weekly total reported since Halloween.
Since moving to Stage 5 of its reopening plan on Sept. 26, the state has reported 493,672 positive cases and 5,950 confirmed deaths – 80.8 percent of the state’s total positive cases and 63.7 percent of deaths for the entire pandemic.
Here are your statewide COVID-19 headlines from last week.
After setting more than a dozen COVID-19 records between October and December, Indiana has started the new year with significantly fewer cases and deaths than those record-setting months.
In November and December, the state averaged about 5,500 cases per day. But in January so far, it has averaged about 4,000.
Shaun Grannis, Regenstrief Institute vice president of data and analytics, said that could be for a few reasons – including the vaccine rollout and Hoosiers avoiding testing and.
“Positivity rate, while it’s been up and down, it’s been up and down within a band. Which suggests to me, we probably are seeing fewer cases right now at least in part because of the lower testing,” he said.
The state is averaging more than 3,000 fewer tests per day in January than December – though it’s important to note that tests, much like deaths, are reported over a series of days.
Indiana reported 1,000 new confirmed COVID-19 deaths in 18 days, bringing the states total to more than 9,000 Tuesday.
With Tuesday’s new data from the Indiana Department of Health, Jan. 4 became the first day in 2021 to surpass 90 confirmed COVID-19 deaths with 92. It's the second-highest single-day record, following only Dec. 11 with 97 confirmed deaths. April’s single day record was 50.
The rate of newly reported deaths has seen a slight slow down since its exponential climb. The state averaged more than 53 deaths per day in November and 76 deaths in December. So far, January’s daily average is hovering around 51 deaths per day, which is still about five times the average of September.
Indiana surpassed 600,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases Thursday. While the state’s daily case count has slowed down, so has its testing.
January has averaged nearly 1,500 fewer cases per day than November or December. But it has also averaged nearly 4,000 fewer tests per day than December and more than 7,000 fewer tests than November.
The state has only reported five days in January with more than 6,000 cases.
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The Indiana Department of Workforce Development planned to reopen a federal program on Jan. 22 that extends unemployment benefits. Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) is for workers who have used up the state’s 26 weeks of unemployment insurance. The program expired at the end of last year, but was revived by Congress.
With changes from the latest COVID-19 relief bill, those receiving benefits will get additional weeks of eligibility and an extra $300 each week until mid-March.
Other workers, benefiting from regular unemployment insurance, are already getting additional benefits.
The Trump administration’s failure to produce a national stockpile of the COVID-19 vaccine is preventing Indiana from moving its vaccine distribution plan further forward.
After first prioritizing health care workers, Indiana’s vaccine plan is age-based. Hoosiers 80 and older started scheduling appointments earlier this month. Within days, it moved down a tier, to those 70 and older.
But the next tier was supposed to be 60 and older. Now, it will be Hoosiers at least age 65, said Indiana Department of Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Lindsay Weaver.
“Despite being told that additional vaccine would be coming to states, we’ve since learned that there is no national stockpile," Weaver said. "Our vaccine allocations have not increased beyond the roughly 78,000 to 80,000 doses we were already expecting each week.”
The limited supply of COVID-19 vaccines is causing tension as states roll out plans for who should get shots first, and school advocates in Indiana are pressing for more access for teachers.
The Indiana Coalition For Public Education and state's largest teachers union are urging Gov. Eric Holcomb and State Health Commissioner Dr. Kris Box to revise the state's plan and prioritize educators in earlier phases of vaccine rollout.
In a letter sent to Holcomb and Box this week, ICPE urged them to adopt the same guidelines shared from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that prioritize educators alongside first responders. It's a change the Indiana State Teachers Association has also called on them to make.
Keri Miksza chairs the Indiana Coalition for Public Education in Monroe County, and says such a change would help more children return to school.
"We should be doing as much as we can to try to keep these schools open and safe," she said.
The U.S. Department of Education is investigating Indiana for how it has handled special education during the pandemic.
The federal department said in a letter sent to the state it's "troubled" by reports of parents filing multiple complaints that their students have been forced into virtual learning plans that don't address their unique needs.
Kim Dodson is CEO of the Arc of Indiana, an advocacy group for people with disabilities. She says special education services have been spotty during the pandemic, with some schools navigating and addressing student needs better than others.
"I think it's been hit and miss – I think that there, again, have been some schools who have figured things out, other schools who haven't," she said.
Gov. Eric Holcomb's state budget proposal is receiving mixed reviews from education groups, after he unveiled his financial priorities for the state last week.
Some call it a great starting point, while others say it doesn't do enough to prioritize teachers.
The Indiana State Teachers Association calls Holcomb's proposed budget "insufficient" for not including more steps to address teacher compensation, pointing to the governor's compensation commission report and recommendations made public in December.
Holcomb's proposed budget does include $400 million to help further pay down teacher pension debt to free up money for schools – similar to a move from his previous state budget plan – but there's no guarantee schools will use any savings they could see from that, for teacher salaries.