Officials say 'stay home' as virus deaths climb

The Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana health officials are doubling down on pleas for Hoosiers to stay at home for the holidays and cooperate with virus mitigation efforts as statewide COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths continue to hit record highs.

The Indiana State Department of Health added 63 more deaths to Indiana’s pandemic toll Wednesday, making November Indiana’s deadliest COVID-19 month yet with 1,055 confirmed deaths. The previous monthly high for coronavirus deaths was 1,041 in April, when at most the state’s moving seven-day average was 42 fatalities a day.

The additional deaths raised Indiana's pandemic total to 5,498 COVID-19 fatalities, including confirmed and presumed coronavirus infections, since March.

The record-breaking death total and other increasing metrics are “beyond heartbreaking," state health commissioner Dr. Kristina Box said during a Wednesday briefing with Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb. Roughly half of the deaths in the last week occurred among vulnerable residents and inside long term care facilities, she added.

For the second consecutive week, the state health department also listed 91 of the state’s 92 counties in the highest two of its four risk levels in its weekly tracking map update released Wednesday. The agency assigned the most dangerous red rating to 17 counties scattered around the state. Only one county was listed in the less-serious yellow rating, while none received the lowest-level blue rating.

“That’s very concerning, especially with Thanksgiving tomorrow,” Box said, adding that state health officials know many Hoosiers are ignoring pleas to stay home for the holidays.

Based on the spikes seen after previous festivities, Box said she's concerned that many of the counties in orange could turn red within the coming weeks. With hospitals still “inundated” with COVID-19 patients — and with new admissions on the rise — the state health commissioner said that could put even more pressure on already strained healthcare workers and hospitals “struggling to give optimal care” to every patient coming through their doors.

Holcomb said he plans to meet with local elected officials, businesses and hospital administrators around the state next week to get “updated perspectives and input” about COVID-19 responses at the local and county levels, and to see how “the state could be doing more” to help out. The governor did not provide specific examples for such assistance, however.

Already, Indiana's Department of Homeland Security, Alcohol and Tobacco Commission and State Fire Marshall have stepped in to do regularly scheduled inspections of businesses to promote “good practices,” Holcomb continued. Forty-seven alcohol-permitted businesses have so far been found to be out of compliance with mask or social distancing requirements, the governor said, though nearly all are now following the rules.

“We have a long way to go,” Holcomb said Wednesday. “We’ve got to be able to muster the strength and the wherewithal to make sure that over the course of the next few weeks ... and few months — before we get to that ultimate light at the end of the tunnel — hat we’re doing all we can to help our healthcare network and all those care workers.”

Holcomb lifted most restrictions on businesses and crowds Sept. 22 before reinstating some coronavirus limits earlier this month.

Since late September, Indiana’s rates of new COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths began a steep increase. Hospitalizations have jumped 312% to a pandemic high of 3,363 patients as of Tuesday, and its seven-day rolling average COVID-19 deaths has jumped from 10 a day to 49.

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