INDIANAPOLIS – Gov. Eric Holcomb chastised Hoosiers for not wearing masks and cautioned about Indiana's worsening numbers Wednesday – even as the state's health commissioner tested positive for COVID-19.
But he chose not to take any new action to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus, such as limiting gatherings, closing schools or putting capacity limits on businesses.
“Too many are ignoring science and rolling the dice,” Holcomb said. “It is the literal definition of whistling past the graveyard, pretending this isn't around us.”
Indiana will remain in Stage 5 and Holcomb will extend the state mask order, which has no enforcement mechanism.
Holcomb and other state employees were tested Wednesday afternoon for the virus and are awaiting results.
Indiana's positivity rate of tests has jumped from 3.9% to 5.3% in a month. Hospitalizations are at their highest levels since May.
New county metrics showed a large increase in counties moving into orange – up to 21 from eight last week. Only one county is in red – the worst level of spread. The lowest level of spread is blue and 24 counties are in it compared with 39 last week.
In northeast Indiana, LaGrange, Steuben, Kosciusko are now orange.
On Wednesday, the state reported 1,172 new cases and 14 new deaths for a total of 139,269 and 3,609, respectively. Allen County reported 82 new cases and no new deaths.
During Wednesday's briefing, Dr. Kristina Box said she has COVID-19, along with her daughter and grandson. She said her grandson attended an in-home daycare and that is likely how they were infected. Box said her adult children and grandkids have long been in their social bubble and everyone has been vigilant about wearing masks.
“God willing none of us will become more ill,” Box said. Her daughter and grandson have mild symptoms and Box has none so far.
Holcomb, Weaver, Box and other staff assisting the briefing all did their parts in separate rooms. And Holcomb wore a mask during the event, although it often slipped below his nose.
House Democratic leader Phil GiaQuinta of Fort Wayne said the governor needs to prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed.
“Though I am relieved that Governor Holcomb made the right decision by extending the mask mandate, this alone will not be enough to fight against the rising hospitalization and positivity rates and fast approaching winter flu season,” GiaQuinta said. “It's simply irresponsible to continue maintaining the status quo when numbers are steadily increasing statewide.
“I know it may not be the best political move for Governor Holcomb right now, but we may need to move a stage back to keep hospitals from becoming overwhelmed in the coming weeks. I don't think the families of those who have passed away or the Hoosiers currently suffering from this virus would tell you to put it off any longer. We will not see change without changing our own behavior, and that starts with a bolder plan from Governor Holcomb.”
Dr. Lindsay Weaver, of the Indiana State Department of Health, said three preparedness districts are seeing ICU bed and staff shortages. None of them are northeast Indiana.
“We are seeing hospitalizations pick up significantly, which is especially concerning as we approach flu season,” said Brian Tabor, president of the Indiana Hospital Association. “If we double down and wear masks, regularly wash our hands, and practice social distancing, it will go a long way in tamping down COVID-19. Communities rely on their hospital and caregivers, especially during the pandemic. We need Hoosiers to do their part to support caregivers on the front lines caring for patients, including those with COVID-19.”
While Holcomb took decisive action earlier in the pandemic by shutting down parts of the economy and having Hoosiers hunker down, he said Wednesday that a blanket response doesn't work.
Instead, the state is offering help to individual counties seeing spikes whether it be with contact tracing or other boots on the ground needed to educate Hoosiers.
“Every one of these cases is a extremely localized occurrence. Every single one of them. For us to continue to balance our lives and our livelihoods ... we don't get to say we'll shut everything down to zero, pull our kids out of school and figure out a way later to care for all those in need,” Holcomb said.
He said Indiana is proving that residents are operating responsibly in Stage 5 – “We need to do more of that.”
Technical issues delay county report
COVID-19 data for Allen County were unavailable Tuesday and delayed Wednesday because local public health officials couldn't access it from a state database.
Information about positive coronavirus cases are given to the Allen County Health Department through an online portal, which was not working Tuesday. The data was made public Wednesday afternoon, after the state emailed it to local officials.
It's not clear when the portal might be working again or whether other counties are also experiencing problems.
“We are experiencing some technical issues and are working to resolve those,” Indiana State Department of Health spokeswoman Megan Wade-Taxter said in an email late Wednesday afternoon.
– Matthew LeBlanc, Journal Gazette