INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana on Tuesday eclipsed 1,000 new COVID-19 daily cases for the first time since early May and hospitalizations continued to rise.
Gov. Eric Holcomb didn't waste any time expressing concern about the new surge.
“Obviously the delta variant has taken hold; ... if this isn't persuasive to get vaccinated, I don't know what could be,” he said. “This is not hard to understand. Vaccines work. Look at the numbers. Look at the cases. Look at the hospitalization rates. Look at the deaths. It's overwhelmingly the unvaccinated.”
The Indiana Department of Health reported 1,085 new cases and 15 new deaths Tuesday. The deaths came after several days with none reported. In all, 13,552 Hoosiers have died from the novel coronavirus.
The latest numbers reflect a surge propelled by the delta variant of the virus – which is more contagious than earlier variants.
The state's seven-day positivity rate has reached 6.3% – the highest since Feb. 9. LaGrange and DeKalb counties have the highest positivity rates in northeast Indiana at 12% and 11% respectively.
About 735 Hoosiers are hospitalized. That number has been steadily growing – up from 371 on July 3. But the state reports plenty of bed capacity. The highest hospitalization number ever was 3,460.
Holcomb said 50% of the state's eligible Hoosiers – those ages 12 and up – aren't vaccinated.
But he still isn't implementing any new statewide restrictions – leaving those decisions to local officials.
Allen County Health Commissioner Dr. Matthew Sutter said “public health interventions tend to be unpopular.” That's part of why the public health system is structured the way it is, he said. Elected officials always feel pressure to do what's popular, so medical professionals are brought in to make the hard choices.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday adjusted guidance on masks for vaccinated individuals – saying they should be worn indoors in areas with high or substantial spread. That is most of Indiana, according to CDC data.
The level of community transmission of COVID-19 varies across the country, but nearly half – 46% – of U.S. counties have “high” transmission including Allen County and much of northeast Indiana. An additional 17% have “substantial” transmission, according to CDC data as of Tuesday morning.
The CDC said the changes were partially because of research showing that even if a person is vaccinated and has a mild case, the amount of virus present is the same as unvaccinated people in terms of passing it on.
Holcomb said he wants to read the new guidance himself before commenting but generally said, “better safe than sorry.”
U.S. Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., filmed a video against the new rules even before they were officially announced.
“I'm afraid we're going to roll right back in to how the heavy hand of government dealt with COVID in the first place,” he said. “I'm going to be a voice for saying, 'Hey, let this be solved at the grassroots level. Let local governments and businesses deal with it.'”
Braun said there was no data to show the heavy-handed approach worked to begin with.
“Be respectful of the disease, but exercise individual responsibility. That's the key,” he said. “No more mandates, masking, and things that didn't work from the get-go unless it makes common sense to do so.”
Ashley Sloboda of The Journal Gazette contributed to this story.