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Holcomb extends public health emergency as state battles surge in COVID-19

Gov. Eric Holcomb, State Health Commissioner Dr. Kris Box and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Lindsay...
Gov. Eric Holcomb, State Health Commissioner Dr. Kris Box and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Lindsay Weaver gave updates on COVID-19 and its impact on Indiana.(Staff)
Published: Dec. 29, 2021 at 5:09 PM EST
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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Fort Wayne’s NBC and WTHR) - As the omicron variant rapidly spread across the state leaving hospitals once again overwhelmed, Gov. Eric Holcomb and state health officials met to update the public on how they plan to address the spread and to highlight roadblocks, specifically a shortage in COVID-19 tests, that Hoosiers should be aware of.

State public health emergency

On Wednesday, Holcomb announced he has signed an extension of the state’s public health emergency and emergency orders.

He emphasized that “considering the impact” COVID-19 is having right now in the state, this “shouldn’t come as a surprise.” However, he said he’s working with the Legislature and leadership to take action that he says will allow him to end these orders.

School quarantines

On Monday, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials cut isolation restrictions for asymptomatic Americans who catch the coronavirus from 10 to five days, and similarly shortened the time that close contacts need to quarantine.

With this in mind, Commissioner Kris Box said state health leaders plan to hold a webinar for local health departments and nurses Thursday during which the state health department will roll out its new guidance on school quarantines.

“The CDC plans to come out with additional school guidance for k-12 sometime in the near future. We know our kids are going back to school on Monday so, basically, we will have a seminar...tomorrow with school nurses and also with our local health departments and be rolling out our recommendations based on the [CDC’s] recommendations for quarantine and isolations,” Box said.

COVID tests in short supply

Meanwhile, the rise in omicron has put a strain on the state’s supply of COVID-19 tests.

Box said due to a national shortage, the state is only guaranteed 11,000 tests. The state’s health leaders are working to acquire more. But in the meantime, they ask Hoosiers to be patient while waiting in line at testing sites and to not go to the emergency rooms to get tested. Chief Medical Officer Lindsay Weaver said this just further strains an already overwhelmed health care system.

Indiana hospitalizations and fatigue within the health care industry

Weaver explained the current total hospital census is the highest it has been in five years.

“We’re over 1,000 patients higher than we were last year,” Weaver said.

She said patients are being held in emergency rooms for hours and sometimes days until a bed is available. She also said, “Patients are being cared for in hallways and waiting rooms.”

To address this issue, the state health department has deployed six-person teams to dozens of hospitals to help with operations. But state leaders said they fear this is not enough, fatigue within hospital staff is leading to widespread staffing shortages within the health care industry.

Box said she’s remaining positive that this profession will recover from the pandemic, but it will take time. And, right now, health care professionals are more necessary than ever.

What leaders say you can do to help

Box pleaded to the public to help Indiana’s health care professionals by wearing masks, getting tested and getting vaccinated.

If you’ve already checked all these boxes, Holcomb said there’s more that you can do to help.

“If you’ve gotten vaccinated and got your booster, that’s not all that you can do. If you can appeal to a person that’s skeptical about the vaccine and its efficacy, please do that...you could make the difference in someone else’s family’s future,” Holcomb said. “Equip folks with compelling evidence. The [best] way to get through this... is to get vaccinated.”

“The next several weeks to a month are going to be difficult...we need to all do what we can and try to communicate with our friends and families to try and get them on board,” Holcomb continued.

Latest Indiana COVID-19 numbers

On Wednesday, the Indiana State Department of Health reported 4,305 more Hoosiers are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, bringing the total number of people vaccinated in Indiana to 3,549,956.

The number of people getting booster shots is also going up across the state amid the omicron variant surge. ISDH said there were 20,134 booster doses administered Tuesday, bringing the total number to 1,342,036.

ISDH updated the most recent COVID-19 cases and deaths on Dec. 27 at 11:59 p.m. There were 5,815 new positive cases reported between Dec. 26-27 and 170 additional deaths that happened between Dec. 16-27.

As of Monday night, there have been 1,227,005 positive cases of COVID-19 in Indiana and 18,280 deaths from the virus since the start of the pandemic.

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