The Indiana Department of Health reported 60 additional confirmed deaths over the last week. That brings the state’s total to 13,063 confirmed deaths. The state also reported more than 5,700 new cases in the last week.
Indiana has administered 2,508,774 initial vaccine doses, with 2,299,256 Hoosiers fully vaccinated.
Here are your statewide COVID-19 headlines from last week.
The Indiana Department of Health expanded vaccine eligibility to 12- to 15-year-olds starting Thursday, following the recommendation from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The FDA passed emergency use authorization for the Pfizer vaccine for that age group early last week.
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Indiana is sending doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to counties without it, following federal approval of that vaccine for 12- to 15-year-olds.
Dr. Lindsay Weaver, Indiana Department of Health chief medical officer, said 30 counties didn’t have a site with Pfizer doses, which is the only vaccine anyone under age 18 can receive. Those local health departments will get doses Thursday.
All other health departments will get more Pfizer vaccine Monday. And every state mobile vaccination clinic will be equipped with Pfizer doses.
“Having this vaccine available will ensure that counties and local health departments can administer vaccine to all ages, so that no vaccination opportunity is missed,” Weaver said.
Indiana health officials say they’re working on multiple fronts to help counter COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy among Hoosiers.
State Health Commissioner Dr. Kris Box said the state is working on populations with lower vaccination rates – rural Indiana and Black and Latinx communities.
“We’re working with community leaders, who the community trusts, that have been vaccinated and can carry the same messages that we give here on a regular basis,” Box said.
Local health officials across Indiana can no longer impose emergency rules stricter than the state’s after Republicans overrode the governor’s veto. Local legislative bodies – county commissioners or city councils – will have to enact those restrictions instead.
The bill, SB 5, arose after Hoosiers complained to their lawmakers that local health officials went too far during the COVID-19 pandemic, shutting down or restricting some businesses.
Sen. Chris Garten (R-Charlestown) said those sorts of decisions are too powerful for unelected officials to make on their own.
“I would contend that actions and decisions of such magnitude should have a check and balance,” Garten said.
Tippecanoe County health officials and county commissioners met Wednesday to discuss the future of emergency health orders and the fate of current COVID-19 restrictions.
The meeting comes after the passage of a law requiring local elected leaders to approve any health orders stricter than the state’s.
County Commissioner Tracy Brown said throughout the pandemic residents wanted to know who was accountable for health orders.
“Is there an elected official that’s accountable for these decisions? There was an answer, it was no,” he said.
Brown was quick to add that he believes Tippecanoe County’s Health Officer Dr. Jeremy Adler has done a “remarkable” job managing the pandemic.
Tippecanoe County still had one health order in place restricting capacity at restaurants and bars. The order kept capacity beneath 100 percent by requiring ongoing social distancing while indoors.
At the meeting with commissioners, Dr. Adler asked to continue Tippecanoe County’s remaining health order restricting restaurant and bar capacity. Commissioners declined.
Indiana will require out-of-work Hoosiers to prove they’re actively searching for work starting June 1, or else lose their unemployment benefits. The rule came in an executive order rolling back some of the COVID-19 relief measures in place for over a year.
Gov. Eric Holcomb is directing the Department of Workforce Development to restart work search and job counseling requirements. It will also begin increasing unemployment trust fund charges for employers who lay workers off.
None of these requirements are new, but have been waived since March of last year to support workers during the pandemic.
Fran Hunter owns a neighborhood bar and grill called Hunter’s Place on Main Street in Elkhart. She said she’s had a “Now Hiring” sign up for weeks. In that time, she’s only had one person apply.
“I’ve been here 37 years and I’ve never ever had a problem hiring help,” Hunter said. “But this has been really, really hard. I’m not getting applicants, I’m not getting anybody.”
Her theory why there are no applicants? Government programs designed to get people through the pandemic.
After businesses complained they can’t find enough people to keep their doors open Indiana is set to become the latest state to bring back a requirement that unemployed workers will have to actively search for jobs to get benefits.
“Unemployment has been extended again, stimulus money again – you know, if you’ve got a couple of kids you’re really getting a lot of stimulus money,” Hunter said. “It’s good for them, but it’s bad for me.”
Hunter’s assumption is a common refrain from business owners, the reality is more complicated.
Micah Pollak, a professor of economics at Indiana University Northwest, said plenty of studies have shown that unemployment benefits are not, by and large, keeping people from taking jobs. Instead it boils down to wages.
“I think it’s kind of like a cop-out for business owners to say that because it puts all the blame on the workers and then they don’t take any responsibility for what’s happening,” Pollak said. “I mean, if a couple hundred dollars a week is enough to convince a worker not to work for you, then I think you need to question what kind of work environment and pay are you offering.”
As Hoosiers wait to find out whether the governor will cut off extra federal unemployment benefits, Republican legislative leaders say it’s time to get the system back to the pre-pandemic normal.
Gov. Eric Holcomb already announced one change this week: out-of-work Hoosiers will have to prove they’re actively searching for a job or lose their benefits, starting June 1. That requirement was suspended during the pandemic.
House Speaker Todd Huston (R-Fishers) applauded the move.
“We need people in the workforce," Huston said. "We hear it loud and clear from employers – and there’s tremendous opportunities available, too.”
An external review on the death of a Black woman doctor found the “medical management and technical care” she received from Indiana University Health did not contribute to her death. But the review also found a lack of empathy and compassion in the delivery of her care, according to a news release from IU Health Wednesday.
Dr. Susan Moore died last December from complications related to COVID-19. In a viral Facebook video, she alleged racial bias played a role in inadequate care she received at IU Health North Hospital.
The review panel was made up of six outside health care experts— four of whom are Black. The panel found cultural competence was not practiced by all providers and several lacked awareness of implicit racial bias in Moore’s care.
The review panel interviewed more than 30 individuals involved directly or indirectly with Moore’s care. The panel also reviewed medical documents, IU Health’s internal review of the case and other information on the organization.
Restaurants that were temporarily able to sell alcohol for carryout during the pandemic get to do so permanently after June.
That's because of a new law, HB 1396, that will take effect July 1.
Some restaurants were only allowed to sell alcohol if people drank it in the establishment. Gov. Eric Holcomb temporarily eliminated those rules during the pandemic to help businesses survive.
Now, Holcomb is getting rid of those temporary policies, effective June 30. That's when the new provisions created by this year's legislation will take effect.
Global pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly is planning for employees working from home to return to their Indianapolis offices this summer. Officials say this is another step towards businesses returning to what operations were before the pandemic.
With about 40 percent of adult Hoosiers reported vaccinated – nearly 32 percent of all Hoosiers – company officials believe it can start returning to pre-pandemic operations with some safety precautions and flexibility.
The company’s plan is to bring 25 percent of its 7,000 employees currently working remotely back to the office on June 1. Those in the first wave will be fully vaccinated. Face masks and social distancing will still be required.