INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana schools reported more new COVID-19 cases last week than at any previous time during the pandemic as the state grapples with a surge in infections and hospitalizations spurred by the more contagious delta variant.
More than 5,500 new cases were reported among Indiana students in Monday’s weekly update of the state’s coronavirus school dashboard. Although nearly 1,000 of those cases date back to earlier weeks, last week’s total was the most recorded since schools began reporting case counts a year ago.
The dashboard also reported 257 new cases among teachers and 355 new cases among other school staff employees.
Schools reported more than 1,300 cases among K-12 students on Aug. 23 alone, marking the highest one-day total reported by Indiana schools.
Still, the dashboard data doesn’t provide the full scope of virus spread within schools, state health commissioner Kristina Box said last week. More than 1,200 schools have not reported cases to the state’s dashboard — as mandated by law — since the start of the new academic year.
Box said state health officials are talking with the Indiana Department of Education to take further actions that compel schools to comply.
As Indiana continues to record the worst statewide COVID-19 positivity rate since last winter, Box largely attributed the the latest statewide surge to the start of the new school year.
Having students in school together and participating in extracurricular activities is driving many of the new cases, she said, increasing the need for students, teachers and staff to wear masks and get vaccinated if they’re eligible to help decrease transmission.
State officials estimate less than 10 percent of K-12 schools are doing COVID-19 testing, however, despite available resources from the Indiana Department of Health. Box said health officials are urging additional COVID-19 testing be offered in school settings, which could help reduce quarantines.
But even after the U.S. gave full approval to Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine last week, just 52 percent of Indiana residents are fully vaccinated against the virus, according to the state Health Department. Only 27.5 percent of the state's 12- to 15-year-olds, and just under 38 percent of 16- to 19-year-olds have been fully vaccinated.
Replies to surveys conducted by IUPUI, the Indiana Department of Health and the Indiana Department of Education in May and June found that fewer than half of parents in the state plan to get their children vaccinated against COVID-19, according to preliminary results released Monday.
The survey also found that 13 percent of parents want to wait and see the effects of the vaccine before inoculating their child, while 42.2 percent said they will not vaccinate their child, or will do so only if required.
Several of the state’s largest school districts in the Indianapolis area began requiring masks for indoor areas after starting the school year without them, reacting to a growing number of COVID-19 infections among students.
Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb said he would continue his policy of allowing local officials to impose mask rules and other steps to stem the coronavirus spread even as several school boards have faced vocal — and sometimes misleading — opposition to such actions.
Box, too, maintained support for elected officials to make decisions about implementing restrictions and other mitigation measures, adding that the state continues to provide local leadership with recommendations on how to get out of the surge.
The state additionally recorded 2,916 new cases of the coronavirus Monday, following more than 20,000 new COVID-19 cases reported in Indiana last week.
The state Health Department’s latest report also showed that hospitals around the state were treating 2,221 patients for COVID-19 as of Sunday — the most since Jan. 21 and up more than five times for the state’s level of about 400 patients a day in early July.
Hospitals reported treating 587 people with COVID-19 in intensive care units, taking up nearly 27 percent of available ICU beds, compared with about 65 patients in 3 percent of ICU space in early July.
Casey Smith is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.