COVID-19 surge not deterring push to end Indiana health emergency

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Indiana’s ongoing spike in COVID-19 illnesses isn’t deterring state political leaders, who remain determined to bring an end to the official statewide public health emergency.

The Republican-dominated state Legislature started its 2022 session Tuesday and planned to quickly take up actions that Gov. Eric Holcomb says will allow him to drop the emergency declaration that he first issued in March 2020. Those steps come as health officials are concerned about the fast-spreading omicron variant further stressing Indiana’s hospitals that have been facing their highest-ever overall patient loads.

A House committee is set to vote Thursday on a bill that includes administrative actions sought by Holcomb, along with provisions that would force businesses to grant broad exemptions to any workplace COVID-19 vaccination requirements. The state’s major medical and business groups oppose the employer limitations, as do Holcomb and Senate Republican leaders.

Republican House Speaker Todd Huston said the ongoing COVID-19 spread wasn’t giving him second thoughts about proceeding.

“COVID is something that we’re going to have to live with and people are going to have to take the precautions that they feel are best,” Huston said. “I’m so grateful and thankful for our health care and medical providers who are doing everything they can, but no one thinks or believes this is going away. We had to live through it and around it.”

Indiana hospitals were treating nearly 3,200 COVID-19 patients as of Sunday, according to tracking by the state health department. That is up about 160% since early November and the most such patients since mid-December 2020 before the vaccines were widely available.

About a quarter of those patients are in hospital intensive care units as Indiana averaged more than 40 COVID-19 deaths a day through nearly all of December. Those COVID-19 cases and other severe illnesses pushed the state’s total hospitalizations for any reason to highest-ever mark of nearly 12,000 patients in mid-December and remained at nearly 11,500 this week after a holiday period when fewer scheduled surgeries are typically performed, according to the Indiana Hospital Association.

That high patient level is forcing many hospitals to keep patients in emergency departments for several hours awaiting open rooms and leaving them with little ICU space for new critically ill patients, said Brian Tabor, the hospital association’s president.

“The strain right now is coming from the fact that the system is essentially like an engine that’s been running at full tilt for an extended period of time without any downtime for maintenance,” Tabor said. “We’re going to continue to be in an emergency situation for some time within the four walls of the hospital.”

The ongoing statewide health emergency has become a persistent target of conservative criticism, and Senate Republicans are backing a bill that focuses solely on three law changes sought by Holcomb. The governor said those steps would allow the state to keep receiving enhanced federal funding for Medicaid expenses and those eligible for food assistance programs, along with letting the state health commissioner continuing issuing a standing doctor’s order for the administration of COVID-19 vaccinations to children ages 5 to 11.

“Ending the public health emergency doesn’t mean that COVID is gone,” Holcomb said Monday. “… We’ll continue on a day-in, day-out basis, on a weekly basis, to deal with COVID as long as it is with us.”

Legislative leaders, meanwhile, have dropped the COVID-19 precautions adopted for last year’s session, when the House moved from its Statehouse chamber to a large conference room inside a state office building for allow greater distancing between its 100 members. The 50-member Senate closed off its balcony to the public and placed 20 senators there in order to space out more.

The plexiglass surrounding the podiums from which legislators speak is gone and all committee meetings rooms are being opened again to the public. Nearly all Democratic House members were wearing face masks during Tuesday’s opening session, while it appeared fewer than five Republicans wore masks.

Huston told House members it was their personal responsibility to protect themselves and others.

“We’re back here and we’re back here to stay,” Huston said. “So, to do that, I’m just saying we all must stay healthy and take care of ourselves.”

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15 thoughts on “COVID-19 surge not deterring push to end Indiana health emergency

  1. At this point I have zero emotion for anyone that never received the vaccines, gets sick, and ends up in a hospital. Play stupid games, win stupid prizes.

    1. I want to agree with you Jaron but then I think about all the healthcare workers forced to care for the (mostly) unvaccinated population that sprints to the hospital when they feel sick after ranting for months(years) about conspiracies. It’s a dangerous situation when the republican politicians- themselves vaccinated- want to utilize COVID to push their anti – government agenda.

    2. How about the people that have been vaccinated and are still getting COVID??? Do you only feel bad for them…You are a sick individual…

  2. “People are going to have to take the precautions that they feel are best.” The problem with that libertarian mindset is that the virus doesn’t respect boundaries, and unvaccinated, infected people who don’t want to have anyone else tell them what they out to do will end up infecting others exponentially. Just like the Trump SuperSpreader event with Amy Coney Barrett in the White House Rose Garden did. Remember? How shortsighted the GOP has become.

    1. Brent – but if the current variant is significantly milder – as reported/confirmed this morn by the New York Times, of all outlets ( “omicron has less risk of death to a vaccinated 75 yr old than the seasonal flu”) – wouldn’t the libertarian mindset be more appropriate now that the risk is at levels historically acceptable? If not, can you help explain why, and what the practical endgame would be?

    2. Sure, if we also prioritize care based upon vaccination status and age.

      But we’ve decided that we are willing to save the unvaccinated regardless of the cost to the healthcare system and society at large. It’s a very bad time to have a heart attack or stroke right now, and healthcare workers are quitting in droves due to burnout.

      So we are letting the terrorists win on this issue.

    3. Scott B. The practical endgame would be to decrease the number of patients in our hospitals and ICUs before they collapse under the weight of operating at 120% capacity. The unvaccinated drive that metric since vaccinated Omicron COVID patients are unlikely to need hospitalization unless they have significant co-morbidities.

    4. The practical end game is admitting we can’t save everyone and making clear that we have no alternative to rationing care, with care for pediatric cases and breakthrough cases at the front of the line and treatment for the unvaccinated either on an as-available basis or limiting what’s available to them to the antibody/antiviral treatments.

      This would lift the load on health care workers immediately, improve the ability to give emergency non-COVID care, and remove the “but the hospitals are full” excuse for those who want further government restrictions. The downside is that it would effectively sentence the unvaccinated who get serious cases to death.

  3. Greatest comment of denial ever uttered by a politician (Todd Huston), “COVID is something that we’re going to have to live with ….” Tell that to the 800,000 plus that are no longer with us.

    1. Clark B. – I’m a conservative, old enough to remember the shared values of our society not so long ago where individuals gladly made small sacrifices together for the greater good. Now it seems at least a third of our citizens shout “freedom!” as an excuse to opt-out of doing anything that benefits their fellow man. They are, to put it simply, exclusively putting themselves first and flipping everyone else the middle finger.

  4. If you have a plumbing problem, you call a plumber not a politician. This House nonsense proves we should rely on experts in their field, not politicians saying stupid things that appeal to a vocal minority of largely Trump supporters who will faithfully show up at the primary elections to endorse again the extremist minority who will then get elected in their gerrymandered district and arrive at the Statehouse thinking they have a mandate to pass stupidity into law. What a corrupted system, where the minority rules.

  5. But this isn’t living! Living in a spirit of fear and kids missing out on how to communicate and learning. I get tired of the guilt and manipulation of people that ask if I want these people to die. The vaccine was made so quickly. Does it even fight against the current strain? What are the side effects? Why are we letting the government control our lives? The mental health places and hotlines are just a crammed as the hospitals. WHAT ABOUT OUR EMOTIONSAL HEALTH AND THE ABUSE OCCURRING BECAUSE THE KIDS ARE HOME SO MUCH? What if a parent cant work from home and has used up all the vacation days. Now I know they get a fresh set in Jan but they won’t last long. What about the economy? What about restaurants, retail, and schools who cant find enough bus drivers? Is this really worth it? I’m sure I’ll get slammed for this as most people have bought into the lie that the CDC and government knows what best for us.