The Indiana Department of Health reported 296 additional confirmed deaths over the last week, along with 1,507 historical deaths from a year-end audit. That brings the state’s total to 11,401 confirmed deaths. The state also reported slightly more than 13,000 new cases in the last week – the fewest weekly reported total since mid-October.
Indiana has administered 694,945 initial vaccine doses, with 216,389 Hoosiers fully vaccinated.
Here are your statewide COVID-19 headlines from last week.
Hoosiers age 65 and older can now register for appointments to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
For those registering online, at the top of the page, there is a muted red banner that reads "Click here to find a vaccination site and register."
That will redirect you to a map, which lists vaccination sites by county. Select the one closest to you (or your loved one). And then select "Click here to register." Select what group best describes you, and then register for your vaccine.
Appointments for the second dose will be made at the clinic when the first dose is administered.
More than 1,500 confirmed COVID-19 deaths were added to the state’s count Thursday after a year-end audit of deaths.
Indiana surpassed 11,000 confirmed COVID-19 deaths with the audit. It also added 28 new suspected COVID-19 deaths – where a test wasn’t administered but health care professionals believe the person had the virus – bringing the overall total beyond 11,500.
That means the number of confirmed COVID-19 deaths is larger than the population of seven Indiana counties.
The new data painted a bleaker picture of the exponential climb in Indiana’s death rate. From June to September, the state averaged about 12 deaths per day. It averaged more than 27 deaths per day in October, 64 in November and 94 in December.
Most teachers and students won’t have to quarantine anymore after a positive COVID-19 case in the classroom. That’s according to new guidance from the Indiana Department of Health.
State Health Commissioner Dr. Kris Box said data suggests spread of the virus is rare in classrooms when everyone is wearing a mask.
“We will no longer require quarantine or contact tracing if the students and teachers remain at least three feet apart and are wearing a mask at all times, in just the classroom,” Box said.
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Box emphasized the new guidance only applies to the classroom.
“It does not apply to lunch, athletics, band, orchestra, choir or any other school setting where students may gather,” Box said.
Box said the new guidance takes effect Monday.
Lawmakers in both chambers of the Indiana General Assembly have approved legislation to provide full funding for schools operating virtually during the pandemic after the Senate approved its version of the bill Tuesday.
The House approved its version of the bill last week, but only one will become law.
They both ensure full funding for schools using remote learning because of COVID-19, circumventing a 2019 law limiting funding for students learning virtually.
Under the Senate version, schools would have to file a detailed report on how they used virtual instruction, and its impact on their finances. That report would also include how many kids participated in each grade level, and how often.
Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly is partnering with health care systems around the state to increase access and affordability around its COVID-19 antibody treatment. The company is working with the state of Indiana and health systems and has established three new infusion centers for its COVID-19 antibody therapy to treat those at high risk.
Lilly’s antibody therapy showed promise among some high-risk patients in reducing hospitalizations and deaths. But the treatment hasn’t been utilized as much as the company hoped.
North, central and southern Indiana each have a site that will focus on providing the drug.
The infusion takes about one hour and each location is expected to treat from 20 to 40 Hoosiers a day.
The drug is already free across the U.S. after doses were purchased by the federal government. However, medical providers could charge patients for the administration of the treatment and cost hundreds of dollars. Patients will not be charged an administrative fee at the new sites established by Lilly, in partnership with the state and health systems.
Indiana would require all nursing homes to allow at least some limited visitation for their residents – even during a pandemic – under legislation unanimously approved by a Senate committee Wednesday.
The bill proposes creation of an Essential Family Caregiver Program.
Indiana nursing homes cut off visitation during the pandemic, leaving many Hoosiers isolated from their families. Vickie Ayres’ mother was one of them. She died late last year after Ayres said she deteriorated in isolation at a nursing home.
“It is too late for my mom,” Ayres told lawmakers. “But you can make a difference in the lives of thousands of people by requiring essential family caregivers’ access into the homes where their loved ones are waiting.”
Telehealth services temporarily expanded during the pandemic will be permanently expanded under legislation unanimously approved by the Indiana Senate Tuesday.
Sen. Ed Charbonneau (R-Valparaiso), the bill's author, calls those services “transformational.”
In 2019, IU Health had 7,400 telehealth visits. Last year, under expanded opportunities via Gov. Eric Holcomb’s COVID-19 executive orders, IU Health had more than 500,000 visits.
Charbonneau said providing more telehealth opportunities means more quality, affordable and accessible health care.
“There are fewer and fewer cancellations of appointments, fewer and fewer trips to the emergency room,” Charbonneau said.
Small businesses in Indiana are one step closer to having access to additional financial aid from the state. House Bill 1004, passed by the Indiana House Tuesday, will provide funds to help small businesses that have been hit hard during the pandemic.
The proposed legislation will allow certain businesses to receive up to $50,000 in aid through the program that will be run by the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC).
Businesses in the hospitality industry could be given preference.
Legislation to crack down on unemployment benefits fraud passed a House vote last week and now heads to the Senate. Even with amendments, some groups say it still has the potential to harm those who make honest mistakes.
The bill would disqualify and penalize people who lie or withhold information in their applications for unemployment benefits. Legislators say it's intended to help the Department of Workforce Development efficiently weed out fraudulent claims.
"The department has assured us that their review of applications will not change and that they intended to only reduce the amount of fraudulent claims that were truly fraudulent," said Rep. Ryan Hatfield (D-Evansville). "We were trying to strike a balance ... to protect Hoosiers while also cutting down on fraudulent claims."
During debates on the House floor, Hatfield's amendment to only penalize "material" facts – rather than "any" fact, as originally drafted – succeeded. However, other proposed amendments to make DWD undergo an audit and waive overpayments on federal benefit programs failed.
The number of Hoosiers who are members of labor unions is at its lowest point in two decades, even as workplace safety issues in the pandemic may be sparking more interest in organized labor.
In 2000, almost 1 in 5 employed Hoosiers were members of a labor union. But new data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates fewer than 1 in 10 workers were union members in 2020. Meanwhile across the nation, union membership grew for the first time after a long period of decline.
Indiana State AFL-CIO President Brett Voorhies says despite the decline in actual members, he’s seen a surge of workers in the past year interested in forming unions.