IN Focus: Indiana lawmakers react to coronavirus response

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- The decision to task Vice President Mike Pence with leading America’s response to the coronavirus outbreak has led to some mixed reaction in the Hoosier state.

Some people believe Pence mishandled an HIV outbreak in Indiana while he was Governor. However, not everyone feels that way.

"Look at the numbers right now. This is a remarkable turnaround," said Current Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb.

He watched as Pence handled Indiana's HIV outbreak and he said he has confidence Pence and the Trump Administration will handle the Coronavirus.

"When my immediate predecessor was in office when this was unfolding. He took unprecedented action in declaring a health emergency down in Scott County, Indiana and when you look at the statistics now, this is a before and after case study. And the rest of the story is, folks are looking at how we did address that,” said Holcomb.

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The Governor credits Pence’s legalization of a needle exchange program as one of the main reasons Indiana was eventually successful in this fight.

But many remember Pence’s reluctance to allow the program.

Shane Avery, a family physician in Scott County testified in favor of needle exchange programs back in 2015.

"It's the Governor's refusal to address this situation that I believe will result in Indiana's most historic failure in public health," said Avery at that legislative hearing in 2015.

Public health officials started to notice a cluster of HIV and Hepatitis C cases in rural Indiana around November of 2014. Two months later, infections had reached 126 cases in a small area.

But it wasn't until March that Pence declared a public health emergency and authorized the program under certain conditions.

“I’m not going to critique Governor Pence on his performance," said State Rep. Terry Goodin, a Democrat representing Scott County. "We were all dealing with the Indiana situation day by day but I will say this, I hope he takes the experience he learned in Indiana and does a better job at the national level dealing with the pandemic that we may be facing with the Coronavirus.”

"He's not the doctor at the table, he's the organizer," added Republican Speaker Brian Bosma. "He's going to be the facilitator and he's very good at that and I'm sure he's going to have a lot of experts around him that will have the proper medical opinions moving forward."

Here in Indiana, lawmakers are still working to legalize needle exchange programs. The exchanges have been allowed under certain conditions since Pence’s approval in 2015. On Wednesday, an amendment passed to extend the program but the future is still unknown at this time.

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