The Indiana Department of Health reported 195 additional confirmed deaths over the last week. That brings the state’s total to 12,142 confirmed deaths. The state also reported more than 6,000 new cases in the last week.
Indiana has administered 992,727 initial vaccine doses, with 565,722 Hoosiers fully vaccinated.
Here are your statewide COVID-19 headlines from last week.
Hoosiers 60 and older can now register for appointments to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. The Indiana Department of Health announced the expansion Tuesday.
In its announcement of the expansion, IDOH said vaccine appointments for this age group will be available over the next four to six weeks, based on the state's vaccine allotment.
About 432,000 Hoosiers are 60-64.
Hoosiers age 60 and older account for 22.5 percent of the population, but 64.1 percent of hospitalizations and 93.3 percent of COVID-19 deaths.
The state opened registration to Hoosiers 65 and older at the beginning of February. Once vaccine supplies permit, the state will extend eligibility to some Hoosiers with underlying health conditions and, likely, Hoosiers 55 and older.
Indiana surpassed 12,000 confirmed COVID-19 deaths Tuesday. The state’s rate of newly reported deaths has continued its post-holiday slowdown.
The daily average of newly reported deaths has dropped significantly since the winter holidays. The state averaged more than 64 deaths per day in November, 96 deaths in December, and 66 in January. So far in February, the state is averaging about 24 deaths per day – which is still double September’s average.
Indiana officials announced Wednesday they’re cracking down on clinics that are vaccinating Hoosiers for COVID-19 who are not eligible under the state’s guidelines.
Teachers recently complained on social media that they’d been taken off vaccine wait lists around Indiana after state officials ordered vaccination sites to do so.
State Health Commissioner Dr. Kris Box said the state regularly communicates with vaccine providers. She said it clarifies the guidelines and cautions sites from violating them before taking punitive action.
One of the only options for Indiana educators who otherwise aren't eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine has been shut down as the state enforces previously unknown rules on standby list eligibility.
Last weekend, reports of teachers being taken off waitlists exploded on social media.
The state is prioritizing vaccine appointments by age, in addition to providing vaccines to frontline workers in law enforcement and health care. That approach prompted teachers and other Hoosiers throughout the state to begin signing up for vaccine waitlists to receive unused doses and help avoid waste.
Teacher Shannon Brown called three different pharmacies to register for a standby list a little over a week ago, but last weekend she got calls saying she was taken off.
"A second pharmacy called me and said that they were not prioritizing teachers, according to the state's orders and therefore I was not on the list," she said.
A recent letter from Dr. Lindsay Weaver, Indiana Department of Health chief medical officer, to vaccine distributors says people who aren't eligible for the vaccine and don't have a qualifying medical condition should not be included on waiting lists.
Hoosiers will live under a COVID-19 public emergency in Indiana for at least another month. That’s after Gov. Eric Holcomb announced Wednesday he will renew the emergency another 30 days, through March.
That renewal – which continues to trigger Holcomb’s broad emergency powers – will be joined with a renewal of county-based, color-coded COVID gathering restrictions.
Holcomb said while COVID-19 numbers are improving, it’s not time for a “mission accomplished” moment – particularly with the state about to host thousands of people for the NCAA men’s basketball tournaments.
The U.S. Department of Education, USDOE, said spring standardized testing will continue this year after being canceled in 2020 because of COVID-19. But the federal government is offering states some flexibility in how those tests are administered and how the data is used.
Officials say it's important to use testing data to identify the type and amount of additional support students need after a tumultuous year, but many agree those scores should not be used against schools on the federal and state accountability systems.
In a letter to state school leaders last week, the feds said states can consider things like extending testing timelines, offering a shorter version of tests, and administering them remotely when possible.
The state has extended some testing timelines and is considering others for later spring tests like ILEARN. But so far Indiana isn't planning to offer remote testing or reduce the number of questions on any state exams.
State officials reiterated Wednesday they believe the state will be able to safely host the NCAA Men’s Division I basketball championship games next month even with fans.
But it remains unclear how states will share information on positive test results from fans attending March Madness from out of state.
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State Health Commissioner Dr. Kris Box said individuals from out of state who are tested in Indiana will have their results shared with their home state.
“Our out of state individuals will, that NBS data or that lab data, gets forwarded to the states and it goes onto their dashboard,” said Box.
The NCAA’s decision to allow fans to attend March Madness could mean thousands more people in central Indiana. The addition of limited fans at the Men’s Division I basketball championship is welcome news for Indiana’s hospitality industry.
Hotels and restaurants were already preparing to host 68 teams consisting of athletes, coaches, staff and family members. The latest decision allowing up to 25 percent capacity at each venue will increase the number of people coming to Indiana.
This follows the Super Bowl where the number of fans was capped at 25,000. Lucas Oil Stadium could have up to 17,500 people including fans, teams and family members of participants.
Indiana Restaurant and Lodging Association President Patrick Tamm said the most recent addition of fans to March Madness is more good news for an industry he says has been the hardest hit during the pandemic. But he said it also means going above and beyond with COVID-19 operating guidelines and safety protocols.
House Republicans approved a new, two-year, $36 billion budget last week they say boosts education and helps businesses recover from the pandemic.
Democrats, however, say the GOP budget fails to adequately lift people up.
Rep. Tim Brown (R-Crawfordsville) is his caucus’s budget architect. He touts $378 million new spending for K-12 education (about a third of which will go to private school vouchers), grants for small business recovery, student learning loss, law enforcement and regional economic development.
“Indiana is the best state in the Midwest for jobs and people working and that shows in the strength of how we budget in state government,” Brown said.
The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics shows Indiana is near the top – but not the best – in the Midwest region for labor force growth and its unemployment rate over the last year.
Indiana Senate Democrats say Republicans haven’t focused on helping working Hoosiers in the first half of the 2021 session.
GOP leaders tout COVID-19 liability protections for businesses – already signed into law– as a major accomplishment of the session’s opening two months. There are also multiple bills to rein in the governor’s emergency powers. And new spending for small business recovery, learning loss and law enforcement reform.
But Senate Minority Leader Greg Taylor (D-Indianapolis) said there are too many missed opportunities.
“Don’t those workers – who, in the times of pandemic, had to go to work to make sure that we have and keep the freedoms that we have today – don’t they deserve an increased minimum wage?” Taylor said.
The Indiana Senate voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to severely limit the governor’s ability to declare public emergencies.
The bill is a reaction to many lawmakers’ unhappiness with executive orders Gov. Eric Holcomb issued throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
Under the bill, the governor could only declare a widespread emergency – like during the pandemic – for a maximum of 60 days, with some legislative involvement.
But beyond that, only the General Assembly could extend the emergency longer.