Indiana Outlines Next Vaccine Steps, Additional Federal Relief Goes To Schools

Feb 15, 2021

Indiana has administered 810,046 initial vaccine doses, with 332,805 Hoosiers fully vaccinated.
Credit (Provided by IU Health)

The Indiana Department of Health reported 345 additional confirmed deaths over the last week. That brings the state’s total to 11,746 confirmed deaths. The state also reported just more than 9,000 new cases in the last week – the fewest weekly reported total since early October.

Indiana has administered 810,046 initial vaccine doses, with 332,805 Hoosiers fully vaccinated.

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

Once Vaccine Supply Allows It, Indiana Outlines What Next Steps Of Rollout Look Like

Indiana announced Wednesday it would not be extending vaccine registration to the next age group – 60 and older – this week. But health officials outlined what the phase after that looks like. 

Once appropriate vaccine supplies are available, the Indiana Department of Health will incrementally extend eligibility to both Hoosiers 50 and older as well as those with five specific comorbidities – conditions that make COVID-19 more deadly. Dr. Lindsey Weaver, IDOH chief medical officer, said that decision was made with the state’s vaccine advisory committee.

Those comorbidities are active dialysis patients, Hoosiers with Down syndrome, post-solid organ transplant recipients, sickle cell disease patients, and people in treatment for cancers now or in the last three months, or with active primary lung cancer or active hematologic cancers, like lymphoma, leukemia or multiple myeloma.

House Votes To Empower Legislature During Future Emergencies, Curb Governor's Authority

A bill giving the General Assembly more power in future emergency situations – and tying the government’s hands a bit – in future emergency situations is halfway to the finish line.

The House easily approved the measure Tuesday, 69 to 27.

Rep. Matt Lehman’s (R-Berne) bill allows the legislature to call itself into an emergency session if the governor declares a statewide emergency – like he did at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The measure also blocks state or local governments from restricting, in any way, the practice of religion. Gov. Eric Holcomb closed churches in the earliest days of the pandemic.

READ MORE: How Will Indiana Distribute COVID-19 Vaccines? Here's What You Need To Know

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Senate-Approved Bill Empowers Local Leaders To Overturn Health Officials’ Actions

Legislation approved by the Senate would give more power to local city or county leaders to overturn the actions of local health officials.

The measure is a reaction to local decisions made during the COVID-19 pandemic.

If a business is fined or shut down in response to an emergency health order, they could now appeal that decision to their city council or county commissioners (depending on whether it was a county or city health official who enforced the order).

The local health officer’s enforcement action is halted until the appeal is either heard or denied – meaning a business shut down by that official would reopen, for instance. The bill requires the city council or county commissioners to announce whether they’ll hear the appeal within 30 days – but doesn’t say after that point when the appeal will actually be heard.

Senate COVID-19 Liability Protections Passes House, House Version Still Moving Through

Legislation to protect businesses and institutions from COVID-19 lawsuits is one step closer to the governor’s desk.

Senate Bill 1 would limit legal action from Hoosiers against companies, hospitals, schools and other organizations for damages related to COVID-19. It’s one of two COVID liability protection bills proposed this session. 

A large number of COVID-19 deaths in Indiana have been in long-term care facilities. Advocates have raised concerns that language in both the Senate and House versions is too broad and creates unnecessary barriers to have a case qualify to be heard in court.

CARES 2.0: How Much New Federal Emergency Funding Is Coming To Indiana Schools

Indiana schools will have more than $881 million available starting next month to help pay for the ongoing fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic as part of the latest round of emergency federal funding. 

The package provides schools with a direct line to roughly four times the amount of money than the original CARES Act. Many plan to use the funding to address learning loss and other ongoing needs exacerbated by the pandemic.

According to the state's initial allocation determination, FWCS is slated to receive more than $42 million in new emergency funding, compared to the just over $10 million it first received through CARES. 

Schools will be able to use the funding for purchases starting next month for the next two years. Local leaders are in the beginning stages of figuring how best to use the new round of funding, but are focusing on one-time purchases or more immediate needs to avoid a fiscal cliff when the funding eligibility expires in Sept. 2023.

Indiana Officials Say Some Special Educators Can Get Their COVID-19 Vaccine Now

Indiana is the only state in the region with no plans for when teachers will become widely eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, but the state's health commissioner says a specific group of special educators should get their shots now. 

The state is prioritizing vaccine eligibility based on risk of serious illness or death, and is working down by age. Eligibility will open to Hoosiers 50 years or older, and others with certain health conditions in the coming weeks. 

But while most teachers eagerly wait for more information about when they'll be eligible to get their shot, Health Commissioner Dr. Kris Box clarified at last week's COVID-19 press conference that aides or special educators both in close contact with students and providing medical type care can get theirs now. 

Study Finds Pandemic Exacerbated Indiana’s Preexisting Economic Issues

Only 42 percent of Hoosiers have what is considered a good paying job according to a new report released Wednesday by the Brookings Institution. It details issues facing Indiana’s economy and what can be done to improve conditions.

The report defines a “good job” as one that covers local cost of living for an individual with or without one dependent plus employer health insurance. In Indiana the average for a job to be considered “good” is an annual salary of $36,900.

Nationally, 39 percent of workers are in “good jobs.” Indiana’s rate is higher, but would need to increase by about 10 percentage points to be competitive with some of the leading states.

The demographics of who has a “good job” shows disparities between many groups. Only about a third of Hoosier women in the state are in a “good job” compared to just more than half of men.

House GOP Budget Prioritizes School Vouchers, Cuts Cigarette Tax Hike In Half

Indiana House Republicans want to spend at least $65 million less on traditional K-12 schools in their state budget plan than Gov. Eric Holcomb proposed.

The House GOP budget instead prioritizes increases for school vouchers and virtual schools.

The proposal increases tuition support for K-12 schools by $378 million over the next two years – that’s $1 million more than Holcomb’s proposal. But the House Republican plan includes a significant expansion of school vouchers for private schools, taking up $66 million of that increase.

But the House GOP plan only spends $110 million this year on the debt for those capital projects. Instead, they propose using budget reserve dollars to create a new grant program that helps students with learning loss from the pandemic, a small business restart grant program to help those trying to recover from the pandemic and money to improve the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy, which trains a majority of police across Indiana.

The budget bill passed out of committee Thursday. It now goes to the House floor.

Contact Lauren at lchapman@wfyi.org or follow her on Twitter at @laurenechapman_.