Indiana health officials report rise in hospitalizations, deaths before Thanksgiving


INDIANAPOLIS — State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box was joined virtually by Governor Eric Holcomb for a briefing on the state’s COVID-19 response ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday.

Holcomb opened the briefing by giving an update on his quarantine. Holcomb and his wife remain in quarantined after members of his security detail tested positive for COVID-19. On Friday, he revealed that he and the first lady tested negative.

The governor gave some reflections on the Thanksgiving holiday before reminding Hoosiers to continue to wash hands, social distance and wear masks.

“I am thankful that over the last four days we’ve seen our seven-day average positivity rate tick down,” said Holcomb. 

He said Indiana’s positivity rate has gone down a little bit, but it’s too early to call it a trend. Holcomb attributed the decline to Hoosiers stepping up and increasing cautious behavior to help healthcare workers.

However, the governor acknowledged the number of COVID-related hospitalizations continues to rise. Holcomb said Hoosiers have to muster the strength to stay the course over the next few weeks and keep our healthcare workers in mind.

The governor will be meeting with statewide officials after the holiday, to get updated perspectives from local officials about what the state and its partnership with communities could be doing better.

According to Holcomb, Homeland Security and the Alcohol and Tobacco Commission have been performing inspections of masking and social distance efforts inside Indiana businesses. 

Holcomb said more than 1,500 places were inspected, and 47 of these locations were not in compliance. So far, the enforcement is education and verbal warnings. The state fire marshal is also working with county and local officials to promote the good practices.

Dr. Box said that health officials know many people are ignoring their pleas to avoid large Thanksgiving gatherings and the CDCs warnings on holiday travel.

“Bringing together large groups of people outside if your immediate household puts everyone at risk of COVID-19,” said Dr. Box.

Indiana continues to see increased hospitalizations and an increasing number of deaths, she said. Dr. Box cited Tuesday’s report of 103 deaths — the highest number of deaths reported on the health department’s website since the pandemic began. 

“Seeing these numbers is beyond heartbreaking,” she said.

Dr. Box said the state is also continuing to call for healthcare worker reserves. Several small health departments around Indiana are struggling because staff members are sick or are in quarantine. She said that facilities that are having a staffing need will be connected with available reserves.

In addition, the Students Step Up To Serve initiative announced last week saw 250 college students express interest to help at hospitals, long term care facilities, testing/vaccine sites and schools. Dr. Box said any student with availability is asked to sign up.

According to Dr. Box, once approval has been issued, the two-dose Pfizer vaccine could arrive to Indiana within 48 hours.

For the vaccine to be effective, both doses need to be taken. Dr. Box added that this new vaccine will not be a “get out of jail free card.” 

“We need to keep following mask and distancing guidelines until a majority of the population has been vaccinated,” she said.

She explained that both doses of the Pfizer vaccine will need to be taken to achieve the touted 95% effectiveness. 

Dr. Box said a recent poll shows only 58% of Hooisers are willing to take the vaccine. She explained that the side effects that are being discussed — headache , fatigue and fever — are a normal immune response, similar to the flu shot. 

She said that until a large portion of Indiana is vaccinated, which will take many months, Hoosiers need to stay the course — mask up, stay socially distanced, wash your hands and stay home if you are sick.

The latest phase of a scientific study at the Fairbanks School of Public Health at IUPUI to measure the statewide prevalence of COVID-19 showed that, as of early October, 7.8 percent of Indiana’s population had been infected with the novel coronavirus.

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