Virus warnings persist as hospitalizations dip

By TOM DAVIES
The Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana’s governor and top health official called Tuesday for continued precautions to slow the coronavirus spread over the Christmas holiday even as pressure has eased on hospitals across the state with slight declines in COVID-19 illnesses in recent weeks.

Health officials also reported a busy start to vaccinations, with more than 40,000 health care workers expected to have received their first shots by the end of Tuesday and vaccinations planned to start next week for some residents of Indiana nursing homes.

Christmas warning

Indiana’s COVID-19 hospitalizations are down about 10% since peaking Nov. 30 but remain nearly four times higher than in September when the state’s steep increase began for coronavirus deaths, hospitalizations and new infections.

The Indiana Department of Health’s daily update showed coronavirus hospitalizations going back over 3,000 as of Monday after falling below that mark on Friday for the first time since Nov. 16.

Gov. Eric Holcomb said while the state could celebrate that it didn’t see a surge of cases following the Thanksgiving holiday, Indiana was still at an “abnormally” high rate of virus spread.

Indiana’s total number COVID-19 deaths has jumped 40% in the past month, with health officials adding 143 recent coronavirus deaths to the state’s pandemic toll on Tuesday. The state’s seven-day rolling average of COVID-19 deaths has reached 80 per day after that average was in the low 40s in mid-November and below 10 a day during July.

State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box said the recent decline in hospitalizations was encouraging but remained “much higher than we would be comfortable with going forward.”

“I’m very concerned about what will happen over Christmas, in the new year’s time and really want Hoosiers to be very, very careful and to really follow the social distancing, wearing your mask and, as much as possible, limit your celebration to those individuals that are in your household,” Box said.

Health officials began raising worries in November about the state’s hospitals becoming overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients. Indiana Hospital Association President Brian Tabor said that concern has eased, despite worries about the risk of virus spread from Thanksgiving gatherings.

“We were headed into some pretty scary territory as a state,” Tabor said in an interview Tuesday. “I think all the warnings and admonitions were absolutely necessary.”

Vaccinations update

Indiana hospitals began vaccinating health care workers last week and more than 90,000 are scheduled to receive shots by Jan. 4, said Dr. Lindsay Weaver, the state health department’s chief medical officer.

The first shots using Pfizer’s vaccine are now being supplemented by a vaccine co-developed by the National Institutes of Health and drugmaker Moderna. Indiana’s initial doses of that second vaccine arrived Monday at the Franciscan Alliance hospital in Hammond, Weaver said.

Vaccinations will continue for the state’s more than 400,000 eligible health care workers but also will start next week for nursing home residents through a partnership with CVS and Walgreens pharmacies, Weaver said.

Box said people must continue to observe precautions as it will be months before the vaccines are widely available for the general public.

“We just have so much hope right now with the vaccine and I’m just afraid people are going to get vaccinated and take off their masks or just assume ‘Hey we’re just a month or two out for this,’” Box said. “This is going to take a while for us to get everybody vaccinated and for us to really see a change.”

Holcomb, who is 52, looked toward Box as he said he would rely on her direction as to when to receive a shot.

“I will get vaccinated,” Holcomb said. “But it won’t be until my time and that could be eight weeks, 10 weeks. It could be February, March, whenever you tell me.”




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