Indiana surpasses more than 15,000 confirmed COVID-19 deaths. The state health commissioner urges pregnant Hoosiers to get vaccinated. And despite positive trends, health officials preach caution.
The Indiana Department of Health reported its fewest number of new COVID-19 cases since mid-August, still adding more than 18,000.
But while cases and hospitalizations are declining, deaths continue to climb. Indiana surpassed 15,000 deaths on Tuesday and added 298 deaths to its total in the last seven days.
The state averaged four deaths per day in July. It’s averaging about 34 deaths per day in September – though it’s important to note, deaths are reported over the course of a few weeks, so that average is likely to increase.
And a larger share of younger Hoosiers are dying from COVID-19. Before Aug. 1, fewer than 3 percent of deaths were Hoosiers younger than 50. But since Aug. 1, that has grown to 10 percent.
THE STATE’S RESPONSE
State health officials say there are positive signs that Indiana may be emerging from the surge of COVID-19 cases it’s experienced the last couple months.
But they still urge caution, as hospital capacity is still stretched to the limit – higher than at any time in 2020 or 2019. Box said that’s in part because people are finally receiving care for non-COVID conditions that had been delayed because of the pandemic.
The state has deployed what are called hospital crisis response teams from the Indiana National Guard to hospitals in need of staffing help. Those teams include both medics and support staff. Medics assist with IVs, blood draws and administering EKGs, COVID-19 tests and vaccinations, while support staff help clean rooms and deliver meals to free up hospital nursing staff.
There are currently Indiana National Guard teams at hospitals in Indianapolis, Evansville, Jeffersonville and northwest Indiana. The teams are deployed seven days at a time, with evaluations for continued deployment each week.
Indiana’s official public health emergency of the COVID-19 pandemic will continue for at least another month.
Gov. Eric Holcomb renewed his emergency declaration for the 19th time Thursday. That declaration triggers his broad emergency powers and ensures Indiana remains eligible for federal relief.
He also continued some limited executive actions. His latest executive order mandates hospitals report to the state when they’re diverting patients to other facilities. It asks insurers to extend prior authorizations for non-emergency procedures being postponed because of the COVID-19 surge. And it makes it easier for advanced practice nurses to provide care across multiple locations around the state.
State Health Commissioner Dr. Kris Box is urging pregnant people to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Box said she’s worried about the increasingly apparent harm the virus can pose to them and their babies.
Less than half of eligible Hoosiers younger than 50 are vaccinated against COVID-19. And Box is especially concerned about pregnant people because she said data “clearly” shows COVID-19 causes more serious disease in those who are pregnant as opposed to people the same age who aren’t.
“COVID-19 also increases the risk for poor pregnancy outcomes like stillbirth and preterm birth,” Box said.
The city of Martinsville is considering an ordinance that would ban COVID-19 vaccine mandates and mask mandates, but the mayor has doubts.
Proponents say the ordinance would protect the personal liberties of Martinsville residents and visitors.
"This would leave the choice up to the individual," said Ben Merida. Merida is a city employee who proposed the ordinance.
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Gov. Eric Holcomb has said he won’t make masks mandatory statewide and already signed a law banning governments from mandating so-called vaccine passports, which would require Hoosiers and visitors to show proof of vaccination.
Merida said the law the governor signed doesn't go far enough to protect people's liberties.
Hoosiers should expect a change in their food stamp benefits as October begins – with most getting an increase.
There are two adjustments to the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The first is the end of a temporary, pandemic-driven 15 percent benefit increase. It was part of the Biden administration’s American Rescue Plan and doesn’t go beyond Sept. 30.
But another change, taking effect Oct. 1, should more than offset that decrease. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, at the direction of Congress, recently updated its Thrifty Food Plan. The USDA describes that as “the cost of groceries needed to provide a healthy, budget-conscious diet for a family of four.”
As nationwide supply chain issues affecting the computer chips and sensors that go into cars and trucks drag on, it has begun to affect an unexpected group: city street commissioners.
Garbage trucks, snowplows, and salt trucks use specialized computer chips and sensors to operate – and local commissioners say problems with either can put vehicles out of commission.
On the front end, chip shortages are keeping new trucks from being manufactured. And on the back end, sensor shortages are keeping existing trucks from being repaired.
Ananth Iyer is a professor of supply chain and operations management at Purdue University.
“I’m fully confident that this will all sort out,” he said. “It’s difficult to forecast how quickly. But I’m pretty confident with all of the brainpower invested in this problem it will get fixed sooner rather than later.”
Iyer said the chip supply problem originated from auto suppliers decreasing their orders from chip manufacturers during the pandemic. Chip manufacturers pivoted to creating chips specifically for consumer electronics – like phones and refrigerators.
Schools across Indiana and the country are scrambling to provide hot meals for students, and with increased demand for breakfast and lunch since students have returned to in-person school, food services in some schools are being pushed to the limit.
Chicken, yogurt, and whole grains are some of the items schools are struggling to find as large food suppliers continue lagging behind because of positions that continue to go unfilled.
Indiana School Nutrition Association President Leeanne Koeneman is the food services director at Northwest Allen County Schools. She said her school corporation is also struggling to find disposable supplies to serve meals.
"As soon as we get done I've got a car here I'm running to Sam's Club just to get forks and spoons – it won't matter what we put on the plate if we don't have a plate to put it on," she said.
Unlike some other large Hoosier public colleges, Ball State University welcomed a smaller freshman class this year. The 3,278 students represent an eight percent drop from the previous freshman class.
Ball State President Geoffrey Mearns said the numbers show which students Ball State heavily recruits.
“We as an institution have been historically very much focused on first-time, full-time freshman as, really, the entry point into our undergraduate educational experience,” he said.
Mearns said Indiana has seen a decrease in Hoosier high school graduates in the last few years. And state data shows a fewer number of those are choosing to go to college.