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Coronavirus: Holcomb Defends Virus Response, IOSHA Issues COVID-Related LTC Citations

(Justin Hicks/IPB News)

The Indiana State Department of Health reported 190 additional confirmed deaths over the last week, bringing the state’s total to 3,894 – the largest reported in a single week since late May. 

In the last week, the state has also reported more than 15,000 new COVID-19 cases, with more than 150,000 total confirmed cases. The state has reported more than 1,000 cases every day since Oct. 7 – including Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday with more than 2,000 new cases each day.

Sunday’s seven-day moving average is 152.1 percent higher than when Indiana began Stage 5. The state’s hospital census fell slightly Sunday, after reaching 1,685 on Saturday – which was the highest since April 15. On Sunday, 1,666 Hoosiers were hospitalized with COVID-19.

Here are your statewide COVID-19 headlines from last week.

Holcomb Defensive About COVID-19 Response As Virus Spread Worsens

Gov. Eric Holcomb insists there is no need to reimpose statewide COVID-19 restrictions.

The average number of new cases has more than doubled since Holcomb moved Indiana to Stage 5 four weeks ago and withdrew almost all restrictions.

At his weekly press briefing on Wednesday, the governor said the state is in a much better place than early in the pandemic. He said hospital systems aren’t overwhelmed and the state’s personal protective equipment supplies are sufficient.

“We know a lot more about this. We know how to fight back," Holcomb said. "We know we can control what we can control – and that has to do with distancing, that has to do with masking up, that has to do with good hygiene.”

State Deploys Resources To Nursing Homes As Cases Surge

Holcomb announced Wednesday the state will devote significant resources to nursing homes across Indiana in the next few weeks.

COVID-19 cases and deaths are surging at nursing homes as the state infection rate spikes.

To respond, Holcomb said he will deploy the Indiana National Guard and members of the state’s health care reserve workforce to help staff those facilities.

“We’re going to be sending a lot of additional PPE – N-95 masks and gowns and face shields … kind of surgically meeting that surge with a surge of our own,” Holcomb said.

Nursing homes account for more than half of Indiana’s COVID-19 deaths.

Indiana's Rise In COVID-19 Cases Challenges Leaders Trying To Keep Schools Open

Indiana is one of several states seeing a new wave of COVID-19 cases, with some counties getting hit harder than others, and the rising numbers are creating additional challenges for schools struggling to stay open.

In Fountain and Warren counties, a spike in cases earlier this month prompted the local health department to issue new recommendations for schools. That list included recommendations to return students to remote learning and cancel extracurricular activities for two weeks.

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Covington Community School Corporation Superintendent Kevin Smith said the constantly changing situation makes it hard to provide a stable learning environment for staff, students and their families. 

"Let's just be frank: this is a difficult environment to provide consistent educational opportunities in the rigorous and relevant manner that we believe we need to for our children," he said.

Research shows little to no evidence that schools are driving the new outbreaks. 

IOSHA Issues COVID-Related Citations To Two Nursing Homes

Indiana’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration is citing two nursing homes for serious violations. It’s the first time major COVID-19 workplace citations have been issued by state authorities. 

Wildwood Healthcare Center in Indianapolis is being fined almost $25,000, while Greenwood Healthcare Center, just south of the city, is being fined $7,000. Safety inspectors say the nursing homes failed to create procedures to ensure that employees are properly fitted for N95 masks or conduct required medical evaluations on employees who were required to wear them. 

Both facilities are owned by the Ohio-based CommuniCare Family of Companies.

States Finalizing Plans To Distribute COVID-19 Vaccine

State health leaders are beginning to release their plans for distributing a COVID-19 vaccine — whenever one becomes available. 

All states were required to submit draft distribution plans to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Oct. 16. A number of Midwest states — including Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri and Ohio — have begun to make these drafts public.

The Indiana State Department of Health released its interim draft on Tuesday and — similar to other states — will follow a phased approach. The department said the first recipients of a COVID-19 vaccine will be health care workers. 

This is a wide-ranging group that includes employees at hospitals, long-term care facilitates such as assisted living or skilled nursing facilities, outpatient facilities and pharmacies. Also on the list: dialysis centers, emergency medical services, frontline public health interventions and COVID-19 diagnostic and immunization teams. 

Indiana Unemployment Rate Falls, But So Does Labor Force

Indiana’s unemployment rate fell to 6.2 percent in September, down 0.2 percent from its August rate. Despite the encouraging sign, the labor force – defined as the number of people working, or looking for work – shrunk significantly.

That number decreased by almost 20,000, two-thirds of them being previously employed. The biggest worker losses came from the education and health services sector and construction. The number of workers in manufacturing held steady, but did not increase for the first time in months.

Kosali Simon is an economist at the O’Neil School at Indiana University. She said when the labor force shrinks, there are concerns that potential workers have gotten discouraged.

“We don’t know exactly why, but what it means is that they’ve found it no longer worthwhile in some way to be still looking for work,” she said.

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