The Indiana State Department of Health reported 378 additional confirmed deaths over the last week – the most reported in a single week during the pandemic. That brings the state’s total to 5,418 confirmed deaths. ISDH also reported nearly 38,000 new cases in the last week.
With the holiday, the state dropped below 5,000 daily cases for the first time since Nov. 10, reporting more than 4,500 on Saturday.
While new cases leveled off, the state’s hospital census set new records, with 3,392 Hoosiers hospitalized with COVID-19 on Sunday.
Here are your statewide COVID-19 headlines from last week.
Indiana has crossed 300,000 positive COVID-19 cases. It was just 17 days ago Indiana hit 200,000 positive cases. It’s hard to compare Indiana’s cases and testing from March to November – it’s not an apples to apples comparison because of the nationwide struggles to expand testing capacity.
From Nov. 6 to Nov. 23, cases increased by 50 percent, but testing only grew by 17.6 percent.
From Sept. 6 – when we hit 100,000 cases – to Nov. 23, cases increased by 200 percent and testing increased by 82.4 percent.
While testing has increased, it doesn’t perfectly explain the exponential rise in new cases.
In that same time, the state went from just more than 2,000 Hoosiers hospitalized with COVID-19 to 3,219 – setting an all-time record.
More than 5,000 Hoosiers have now died from COVID-19. While state officials have tried to slow the spread of the virus, some health experts say it wasn't enough.
To put that number into perspective; it takes about 5,000 people to fill about 25 Boeing 737s, or four average-sized U.S. high schools. In 2017, the student population at Butler was 5,000.
It’s now been almost three months since Indiana moved to Stage 5 and reopening. Since then, the state’s broken 15 records including the number of positive cases in a single day and hospitalization rates.
In the early days, much of the state’s focus was on not overwhelming the hospital system and its staff. There was a push to make sure enough ICU beds were available to keep up with projected trends, as well as enough personal protective equipment and ventilators. Health care officials also called on Hoosiers to get flu shots as a way to help curb the need to visit hospital emergency rooms, or need hospitalization due to the flu.
State Health Commissioner Dr. Kris Box said she’s very concerned about a spike in COVID-19 cases following Thanksgiving.
Box said it appears many people are ignoring the advice of public health experts to stay at home this holiday weekend and not gather with people outside their household.
“Our hospitals are being inundated with COVID patients," Box said. "There is still time to make the hard choice today so that you can enjoy many more tomorrows with your loved ones.”
More than 10 percent of Hoosiers – more than 700,000 people – have been infected with COVID-19 at some point.
That’s according to the latest update from the Fairbanks School of Public Health’s statewide COVID-19 study.
Nir Menachemi leads the study. He said the percentage of Hoosiers ever infected jumped more than 35 percent in just the last month and a half.
“And we have evidence to suggest that an increase in infections among younger Hoosiers quickly translates into more infections – and thus more deaths – among older Hoosiers,” Menachemi said.
The Indiana State Teachers Association is calling on the governor and schools to take more action as schools have reported more than 15,000 COVID-19 cases.
In a statement, the state's largest teacher's union said it wants the governor to require all schools to report COVID-19 case data to the state. As of last week, nearly 400 schools are still not reporting COVID-19 data for the state's dashboard.
ISTA President Keith Gambill said even with companies rushing to make a vaccine available, preventative measures are still needed.
"We have to be honest about how the dynamics have changed since school started, and we need to be responsive," he said.
As schools move more of their students back to virtual learning, internet connectivity remains a significant hurdle for some families. But in Vigo County, the school district is deploying a fleet of Wi-Fi-equipped buses as part of its strategy to help bridge the gap.
Vigo County School Corporation is sending out nearly 140 school buses equipped with Wi-Fi to help students download and upload assignments during remote learning days.
Spokesperson Bill Riley said it's a way to keep bus drivers working even if kids aren't coming to school buildings, but it's just one part of the equation.
"They're great for a couple hours a day, but it doesn't really solve the inequity that lack of internet access causes in our community," he said.
As coronavirus infection rates skyrocket across the state, many school districts are going back to full-time virtual learning. But that poses a problem for working parents as a temporary paid leave program expires at the end of the year.
Since April, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act has let parents take up to 10 weeks of paid leave if their child care provider or school closed for in-person instruction. That created an economic lifeline for parents of young children to keep their jobs.
That expires Dec. 31, although many Indiana school districts will be virtual only through mid-January at least.
Erin Macey, senior policy analyst at the Indiana Institute for Working Families, says the situation could get desperate as parents have to choose between work and family.
“I think unless Congress acts, this could get worse,” Macey said. “Being able to balance what’s being asked of parents right now requires family leave.”
State and federally-funded workforce programs need to continue sharing data and resources while adapting to changes brought by COVID-19. That's the biggest takeaway from Indiana’s Legislative Services Agency annual workforce programs report for legislators.
This year’s report noted that, unlike in the past, unemployed workers didn’t need to actively search for a job to get benefits and restrictions on business, schooling, and travel have affected jobs.
As a result, even though unemployment rates have skyrocketed, the number of people using re-employment services at WorkOne centers across the state is down about 20 percent.