NewsHealth / October 18, 2020

Coronavirus: Indiana Hits 2,000 New Daily Cases, Reopens Rental Assistance Program

Article origination IPBS-RJC
Coronavirus: Indiana Hits 2,000 New Daily Cases, Reopens Rental Assistance Program

Coronavirus: Indiana Hits 2,000 New Daily Cases, Reopens Rental Assistance Program

The Indiana State Department of Health reported 142 additional confirmed deaths over the last week, bringing the state’s total to 3,704 – the largest reported in a single week since the late May. 

In the last week, the state has also reported more than 12,500 new COVID-19 cases, with nearly 147,000 total confirmed cases. The state has reported more than 1,000 cases every day since Oct. 7 – including Friday and Saturday with more than 2,000 new cases each day.

Sunday’s rolling average is more than 110 percent higher than the rolling average when Indiana began Stage 5. And 1,387 Hoosiers are hospitalized with COVID-19 – the highest since May 6.

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

Chicago Travel Order For Indiana Begins Friday

Chicago’s emergency travel order for Indiana took effect on Friday at 12:01 a.m. The order is aimed at limiting travel to and from the city to the Hoosier State

While some see the order as an inconvenience, others, like Crystal Shannon, associate director of the graduate program at the school of nursing at Indiana University Northwest, see it as an effective way to reduce transmission of the virus.

She said now that Hoosiers and Chicagoans are familiar with travel restrictions, like the ones that were implemented at the beginning of the pandemic, she expects the order to be effective. 

Under Chicago’s order, individuals traveling for reasons other than work-related purposes to and from the city, as well as other specific exemptions, are expected to quarantine, or face fines that can total up to $7,000. 

Holcomb Won't Change Course Despite Spike In COVID-19 Cases, Hospitalizations

Gov. Eric Holcomb won’t reimpose any COVID-19 restrictions despite all of the state’s “guiding principles” heading in the wrong direction.

Hospitalizations are at levels not seen since May. The average number of new cases has jumped 110 percent since Holcomb rescinded almost all restrictions. The positivity rate has increased 40 percent in that time. And some hospital systems are experiencing staffing shortages.

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But Holcomb stresses the need for personal responsibility.

“This ultimately comes down to our personal actions or inactions,” Holcomb said.

Myers: Holcomb 'Frozen' In COVID-19 Spotlight After No Changes To Statewide Restrictions

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dr. Woody Myers says Gov. Eric Holcomb is “frozen in the intensifying spotlight” after he refused to reimpose COVID-19 restrictions in the face of worsening numbers.

Holcomb laid the blame on a lack of personal responsibility. And he said the state’s focus will be supporting local governments to address hot spots.

Myers – a former state health commissioner – called Holcomb’s response a lack of leadership.

“So, we’re going to let 92 different approaches occur in 92 different counties based upon a color-coded map that changes weekly as the numbers, which are delayed, get reported," Myers said. "That makes no sense from a public health standpoint.”

Myers said he would reimpose capacity limits on bars and restaurants and implement “consequences” for not following proper COVID-19 precautions – including, potentially, fines.

Indiana Rental Assistance Program Taking New Applications

Hoosiers facing eviction and in need of help paying their rent can once again get assistance from the state. The state, using federal COVID-19 relief dollars, reopened its rental assistance program Tuesday.

The state’s latest rental assistance program provides some money for six months for Hoosiers who’ve lost income during the pandemic.

Hoosiers can apply at IndianaHousingNow.org

The state’s program is only available for renters outside Marion County. Marion County has its own rental assistance program, though currently it’s only putting people on a waiting list.

Appeals Court Reverses Ballot Deadline Extension; Mail-In Ballots Due Nov. 3

Indiana mail-in ballots must be returned to the county election administrator’s office by noon on Election Day, Nov. 3, if they’re going to count.

That’s after a federal appeals court Tuesday reinstituted the state’s vote-by-mail deadline.

In its ruling, the appellate court said it’s the responsibility of voters, not the state, to do everything they can to ensure their vote is counted.

The appeals court’s decision also said it doesn’t want to change election policies this close to Election Day.

Indiana Health Commissioner Positive For COVID-19

Indiana’s State Health Commissioner Dr. Kris Box is in quarantine after she and members of her family tested positive for COVID-19.

Box said she, her daughter and her grandson got tested after two workers at her grandson’s daycare were positive for the virus.

“Kathryn and Liam are mildly symptomatic – fortunately, they seem to be doing well," Box said. "I’m not symptomatic.”

State Health Department Chief Medical Officer Dr. Lindsay Weaver said Box has always practiced proper social distancing and mask wearing at work, limiting potential exposure.

“However, out of an abundance of precaution, the governor, myself, members of the governor’s office and the Indiana Department of Health office will get tested this afternoon,” Weaver said.

Governor Holcomb Tests Negative For COVID-19

Gov. Eric Holcomb has tested negative for COVID-19.

Holcomb, members of his staff and State Department of Health staff got tested Wednesday after State Health Commissioner Dr. Kris Box announced she was positive for the virus.

All those tests came back negative.

According to state health officials, Holcomb and government staff were not considered close contacts of Box’s because they had followed social distancing and mask-wearing guidelines. The tests were done out of “an abundance of caution.”

Pause In Johnson & Johnson Study Halts Trials In Northwest Indiana

Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine trial is now on hold, after a participant became ill. Though pauses are not uncommon throughout the study or trial process of new medication, the pressure and demand of developing a vaccine to fight COVID-19 has cast a spotlight on those pauses.

Study pauses can vary, sometimes they just last days. Little information has been given about the patient, but Johnson & Johnson’s researchers are studying the patient’s illness.

The same trial was set to begin recruiting participants in Northwest Indiana recently and has also been put on hold for the time being. 

Dr. Robert Buynak is the owner of Buynak Clinical Research in Valparaiso, and facilitator of the vaccine study in the Region. He said the selection of northwest Indiana to find participants was based on COVID-19 cases, its geographic location and diverse minority populations. 

“If a medication is studied in one group, but then it’s being used by another more diverse group, can you say the effects are the same in the study group, then the group actually using the drugs?” Buynak said.

A vaccine trial made by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, was put also on pause and is still being reviewed by U.S. officials. Eli Lilly also paused its monoclonal COVID-19 antibody treatment study, ACTIV-3, Tuesday, due to safety concerns. However, Indianapolis-based Lilly has yet to release any more details about the safety concern.

Study Pauses Are More Common, Essential To Clinical Trials

Eli Lilly paused trials of its COVID-19 treatment drug Tuesday. The news came less than a day after Johnson & Johnson also paused its trial on a COVID-19 vaccine.

However, Purdue University virology professor Suresh Mittal said that whether or not a vaccine trial has study pauses, doesn’t matter. What matters is whether or not the pause was caused by the vaccine in question. He said that’s what pauses help researchers investigate. 

He said as far as a timeline for how long pauses can last, depends on each trial and how quickly researchers can find the answers they need for things such as unexplained illnesses.

Mittal said we don't normally hear about study pauses because of the number of clinical trials going on at any given time, and because they're a normal part of the process. He said we're hearing more about pauses related to COVID-19 because of the need for effective medications. 

“We are hearing this one in public a lot, because everyone [is] concerned," he said. "Everyone is watching them.”

Why COVID-19 Cases Are Spiking Across The Midwest

Now that summer is over and temperatures are dipping across the Midwest, people are headed indoors. Some experts fear the already striking rise in cases is the beginning of another wave of COVID-19.

“I think that as fall moves forward ... what we're seeing right now is kind of a preview of what we can expect, as we even see colder temperatures come,” said Brian Dixon, director of public health informatics at the Indianapolis-based Regenstrief Institute. 

Cases of COVID-19 had been declining for months, but now all Midwest states are seeing a spike in infections and hospitalizations.

Many intersecting factors likely are contributing to the rise in cases, including a reopening economy, schools in session and more adults back at work. There’s also what some people are calling “pandemic fatigue.” 

“[It's been] more than six months and anything that goes above six months, people get apathetic about for sure,” Dixon said. 

Amid these rising numbers, state officials are pleading with people to take the virus seriously.

“What we keep hearing is that people don't think COVID is a thing, that people are gathering in large groups without masks. They're not social distancing, and essentially, that they have pandemic fatigue,” said Dr. Lindsey Weaver, Indiana chief medical officer in a news conference last week. “You can look at our numbers and see, it's clear COVID is a thing.”

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

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