Indiana officials lauded the state’s success in decreasing weekly COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and positivity rate. But they are concerned by new variants, the number of COVID-19 deaths reported in recent weeks and the upcoming NCAA men’s basketball tournament, which will be played exclusively in Indiana.
As of Feb. 23, the Indiana State Dept. of Health reported a weekly moving average of 949 COVID-19 cases on its coronavirus dashboard, coronavirus.in.gov. The state hadn’t reported a moving average below 1,000 since September 2020. COVID-19 hospitalizations also declined, with 886 patients on Feb. 23, another statistic not seen since late September.
Moreover, the state’s seven-day average positivity rate declined from 16 percent Jan. 4 to 4.1 percent Feb. 16, the lowest percentage since the state began tracking the metric in March 2020. Several counties have reported fewer cases and lower positivity rates in recent weeks, which has lowering their advisory level on the state’s color-coded advisory map.
Although many of the state’s key metrics have declined, COVID-19 deaths, new virus variants and the upcoming NCAA men’s basketball tournament are concerns for state health officials.
In the seven days prior to Feb. 24, 215 COVID-19 deaths were reported. In total, nearly 12,000 COVID-19 deaths have been reported, and another 428 have been listed as probable COVID-19 deaths. State health officials say diligent mitigation efforts are still needed to curb deaths and prevent the spread of more infectious variants of the coronavirus.
“The virus continues to mutate, which creates more unknowns,” Indiana State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box said during a Feb. 24 virtual press briefing. “Indiana now has 16 cases of the U.K. variant strain. While the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have good efficacy against this variant, it is not as effective against some of the others that are emerging around the world. Our best hope at preventing these mutations is getting the majority of our population vaccinated, which will take many more months.
“In the meantime, we must continue to treat this pandemic with the care it has demanded for almost this past year, and that means wearing a mask, practicing social distancing, washing your hands, staying home if you are ill and making sure you get tested if you are sick.”
Indiana is set to host the Big Ten, Ohio Valley and Horizon League conference tournaments and the NCAA Divisions I and II tournaments this month. They are expected to bring much-needed revenue to the city and state, but state officials said the unique opportunity doesn’t come without risks.
“I share concerns about volleyball tournaments,” Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb said when asked during the briefing if he is concerned about hosting basketball games with live audiences during the tournaments. “I share the excitement as well that goes along with that. I share concerns about live commencement ceremonies. That’s why we work together with our local partners, and we’ll continue to do that. This is nothing new to these schools. They’ve been doing this they’re whole season and before that first tipoff.
“This has been institutionalized for them, and they know the parameters once they arrive here on Hoosier soil as well. So absolutely we welcome the competition and the attention that we’re going to get, and we’ll work together to make sure it’s a successful event.”
Lindsay Weaver, chief medical officer of the Indiana State Dept. of Health, said the state’s allotment of vaccine doses from the federal government has steadily increased and that Indiana received, in addition to its expected weekly allotment, all of the vaccines that were delayed the week of Feb. 15 because of snow storms. As a result, the state opened vaccine eligibility to residents ages 60-64 on Feb. 23.
Because of the increased allotment, state officials said 10 mobile units will now travel to counties where vaccine appointments are booked well in advance. Beginning Feb. 25, the mobile units were to open in Bartholomew, Clinton, Dearborn, Greene, Lake, LaPorte, Lawrence, Randolph, Scott and White counties.
Appointments can be made at the mobile units or any clinic in the state by visiting ourshot.in.gov or calling 2-1-1. Indiana residents cannot be vaccinated without an appointment and must be 60 or older. Health officials said Indiana will no longer give first dose vaccinations to anyone who doesn’t live in Indiana. Previously, the state allowed health care workers and others who lived outside of the state to be vaccinated.
Box said the state received reports that some clinics had vaccinated residents who were not eligible under the state’s age-based format. She said clinics were reminded of the state’s eligibility requirements, and in at least one instance, Box said the state was forced to stop shipments to a clinic because it did not adhere to the requirements following a warning. She said vaccines initially scheduled to be sent to the clinic were diverted to another clinic in the county.