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Holcomb sizes up COVID surge … and AG Todd Rokita fanning ‘flames of confusion’
As Gov. Holcomb and his team talked, the state released the biggest single-day COVID numbers of 2021. About that … and the choice words Holcomb had for Attorney General Todd Rokita
Thanks this morning goes to the Long Center for the Performing Arts for its ongoing support of the Based in Lafayette reporting project. The Long Center recently announced its “100 Years of Film” series, to mark the theater’s anniversary, first opening as the Mars Theatre in 1921. For more scroll to the bottom of today’s edition.
THE GOVERNOR AND THE LATEST COVID UPDATE
"We once again are facing a very bleak situation with this pandemic. … We expect to see a very steep rise in cases over the next several weeks.”
Dr. Kris Box, Indiana’s state health commissioner, barely got the words out Wednesday afternoon during a COVID-19 update with Gov. Eric Holcomb before they became all-too apparent.
As they spoke, the Indiana State Department of Health’s COVID dashboard reported 7,967 new cases – the most in a single day in 2021 and the third most assigned to any day during the entire pandemic.
Meanwhile, Dr. Lindsay Weaver, the state’s chief medical officer, said Indiana’s hospital census was higher than at any other point in the past five years, with more than 1,500 patients more than the state’s peak last year. That just underscored a point doctors and administrators at Lafayette’s hospitals have been trying to drive home for weeks, as they’ve watched the second-largest surge of the pandemic advance.
Box said state health officials understood that Hoosiers looking for COVID tests are frustrated by long waits on short supplies and that the state was trying to find additional tests and to work through what she called a national problem. (For a decent rundown of more from Box on testing problems, here’s a link to an IndyStar story that outlines the situation.) Weaver said new COVID medications are being parsed out slowly.
Meanwhile, Box said cases among kids age 9 and younger were up, going from 3% to 10% of all cases. She said cases among those ages 40 and under were growing, proportionately. She said the onset of the Omicron variant, barely registering yet in Indiana but based on its infection rates in other parts of the world, would mean a sharp rise in cases across the state.
And Holcomb extended his statewide public health emergency order through January. It’s been in place, in some form, since March 2020.
“This situation will get worse before it improves,” Box said.
On that note … some takeaways from the first formal update in months from Holcomb. Starting with …
Holcomb vs. Rokita and COVID numbers: Days after Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita touted an interview he’d done with a South Bend television station – one in which he said he didn’t “believe any numbers anymore” and that COVID case reporting “has been politicized” – Holcomb sounded off.
“I will say that I was stunned and somewhat blindsided by the attorney general when he said he didn't trust any information, because that, to me, hit home,” Holcomb said. “And it's quite serious when you accuse or insinuate anyone of inflating numbers. In my book, that's called fraud.”
Holcomb said that if Rokita had “a shred of evidence” that the state was doing that, he should take it to the inspector general to have it checked out.
“We take this very personally, not just professionally,” Holcomb said. “The responsibility that we have to share good information that people at home cling to make decisions about when to go to the grocery store is of paramount importance. And so anyone that is spreading misinformation or disinformation regarding our reporting, to me, is just attempting to fan the flames of confusion. And that's exactly what we don't need at this time.”
Earlier in the day, Rokita pinned a lengthy thread to the top of his Twitter account, saying he’d been misconstrued in his assessment of the “China virus.” He said he stood by his comments that he believed that “non-COVID illnesses or deaths are inappropriately categorized as COVID, which further creates fear.”
"By the way,” Rokita tweeted, “I did not say this was some kind of Indiana government failure as several of the dying, agenda-driven mainstream media have claimed.”
After Wednesday’s press conference, Rokita issued a statement: “A lack of global standardization of the data and non-uniform use of criteria is an industry-wide management issue, not an Inspector General issue. This isn’t about fraud at this point, it’s about inaccurate numbers and political agendas causing doubt.”
Holcomb said he hadn’t spoken with Rokita about the comments. And he said he didn’t plan to reach out to the attorney general.
“If someone has a question, they need to raise that question with us, and we will answer it,” Holcomb said. “If it is confusion, we can help. And that goes for anyone in the state of Indiana, not just officeholders.”
Best advice, get vaccinated: Holcomb, Box and Weaver circled back several times about how vaccination could prevent hospitals from getting overrun as the Omicron variant moves in.
“I know everyone is tired of COVID-19,” Box said. “It doesn't matter if you're a health care worker or a first responder or a public health nurse, or simply a Hoosier who just longs for things to get back to normal. None of us could have ever prepared for this crisis in this duration. The toll has been enormous. But the best way indeed the only way to get back to these pre-pandemic days is for everyone to do their part. And that starts with vaccines.”
Holcomb was asked what his administration was going to do to ratchet up a vaccination rate that has stagnated at 54.6% of eligible Indiana residents for months. It’s one of the lowest vaccination rates among all states.
Holcomb admitted that if people hadn’t listened to him for nearly a year about getting a shot regimen, followed by a booster, they might never do. But, Holcomb said, people might be willing to listen to those closer to home, in one-on-one conversations and in settings with people they trust. The governor said he’d spend his time and persuasion on those sorts of people in the coming weeks and months.
Here’s Holcomb on that:
“If you can appeal to folks who are skeptical of the efficacy of the vaccine, please do that. You may be the person someone trusts that's holding out. I hear these cases, too. And it could be at the Y. It could be a church. It could be if you play bridge with a group. Who knows what the group is? But if you're a trusted individual in your cohort, you could make the difference in someone else's family's future. … If you love someone, try to appeal to them to see the light."
Thanks to health care front line: Holcomb opened the session Wednesday with a shout out to nurses, doctors, hospital staff and “everyone that’s had a hand in helping us navigate day after day after day.” Here’s what he said:
“There are not enough eloquent words in the English language for me to say thank you, to those individuals who complete shift after shift after shift, who have been doing going on two straight years now, who are saying prayers for people at their bedside. … I want to say thank you because you have gone way up and above and beyond, over and over and over again. I know how tired you are. You're making a huge difference, one family at a time.”
Back to school: Box said the state expected additional CDC COVID recommendations for schools and will get state advisories to school nurses and the districts “in the next 24 hours,” so kids and teachers knew what they needed to do to go back to class after break next week.
Local numbers: Tippecanoe County added 179 new COVID cases in Wednesday’s state report. That made for a seven-day average of 139 new cases a day. Tippecanoe County also had four new reports of people dying of COVID for the second consecutive day, according to Wednesday’s state report. Since the pandemic started, 304 Tippecanoe County residents had died of complications tied to COVID, according to state figures.
Tests and hospital ERs: Weaver stepped up pleas not to go to hospital emergency rooms simply for COVID testing.
“Our ERs are stretch to the limit with very sick patients, and the additional volume of people seeking testing adds an additional strain,” Weaver said.
Earlier Wednesday, Franciscan Health Lafayette and IU Health Arnett, Lafayette’s two hospitals, issued their own statement on the matter:
“Emergency department physicians across the state are caring for a large volume of patients, including those with urgent COVID-19 complications and other serious ailments, including trauma and broken bones. Although you always have the right to visit the emergency department of your choice, officials with Franciscan Health and Indiana University Health are asking for your help to preserve critical emergency department staffing resources by asking patients experiencing mild COVID-19 symptoms to contact their primary care physician, an urgent care clinic, or community site to receive COVID-19 testing versus the emergency room.”
To find testing and vaccine locations, go to www.ourshot.in.gov.
THANKS, OMICRON: WEST LAFAYETTE MEETINGS GO VIRTUAL
West Lafayette Mayor John Dennis moved the city’s public meetings, including what was almost guaranteed to be a crowded city council meeting next Tuesday, back to virtual footing this week. The city had been among the few governmental bodies in Greater Lafayette to resume virtual meetings this summer and fall with the COVID surge linked to the Delta variant. Dennis said the prospects of the Omicron variant adding to another, more recent run of COVID cases prompted the decision.
“As everyone knows we are definitely not out of the woods in regards to COVID and the continued spread of this virus,” Dennis said. “The numbers of people infected with the virus are reaching levels similar to what we experienced during the shutdown/lockdown phase earlier this year. One thing we know for sure is that this virus and the new strains of COVID are more easily spread than earlier versions. We must take action to prevent this.”
How long will the new virtual meeting order last?
“My crystal ball is hitting ‘tilt” every time I ask it that,” Dennis said.
In the city council’s Dec. 6 meeting, West Lafayette City Hall was standing room only, and then some, as the council eventually tabled a controversial proposal to ban unlicensed therapists from doing conversion therapy on minors. The council is expected to resume the debate at its Jan. 4 meeting. The council also is scheduled to meet for a work session at 4:30 p.m. Thursday.
For details about how to tune in, here’s your link.
A thread: Silver Linings, the 2021 Edition
In case you missed it in your inbox, this went out Wednesday:
Nobody needs to remind you, 2021 was rough year in more than a few ways. But in all the year-end reflections, how about a look a what went right? With that in mind …
What was one of the silver linings for you during 2021? We’re talking something personal, something in the community, the fact that two Popeye’s are coming to town … anything. What’s one thing that put some sort of positive spin on a trying year?
There’s a nice list started. And it’s growing. Feel free to add yours here.
Thanks, again, to the Long Center for the Performing Arts. For details about the theater’s new “100 Years of Film” series, complete with pre-show performances on the Long Center’s Mighty Wurlitzer pipe organ, click on a movie below.
Thanks for signing up and making the fledgling season of the Based in Lafayette reporting project work. Not a subscriber, but thinking about it? The New Year is a good excuse to jump aboard.