Half of Indiana counties labeled high-risk for virus spread

(Supplied/Indiana Dept. of Health)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP): Indiana’s governor and top health officials called Wednesday for patience while early doses of vaccine against COVID-19 are administered to health care workers and residents inside long-term care facilities.

The governor also announced he was extending his statewide mask order and restrictions on crowd sizes for three more weeks, but lifting a pause on non-emergent, elective hospital procedures.

Nearly 76,000 residents had received their first dose of vaccine as of Tuesday morning, Indiana’s chief medical officer, Dr. Lindsay Weaver, said during Holcomb’s weekly briefing on the state’s coronavirus response. More than 110,000 more Hoosiers have scheduled appointments to get shots through next Monday.

As of this week, CVS and Walgreens have started administering an additional 40,000 doses set aside for long-term care residents and staff, Weaver continued.

By the end of the week, Indiana will have received 146,250 doses of the Pfizer vaccine and 152,500 doses of the Moderna vaccine, she noted.

But while it may appear that there are “a lot of extra” vaccine doses, the weekly allocations the state gets moving forward will be lower than the initial shipments, Weaver said, adding that vaccinations have been “limited” over the holidays. The pace is expected to pick up in the coming weeks, she said, and so far, no doses have been wasted or expired.

Weaver said state officials are continuing to focus vaccination efforts on frontline health workers and residents in long-term care facilities. Indiana health officials hope to have updated guidelines next week indicating who will be next in line for vaccines.

“The goal is to get vaccine in the arms at the highest risk in our health care settings,” Weaver said. “I want to stress that we are moving in a very intentional order of eligibility for vaccines. We want to ensure that we have enough vaccines before we open up vaccinations to additional groups.”

Still, if hospitals have extra vaccines, Weaver advised to “go ahead and get the vaccine into people” — even those outside of the current eligibility hierarchy.

Nearly half of Indiana counties were rated with the highest risk level of coronavirus spread in Wednesday’s update after state officials corrected a flaw in Indiana’s reporting.

The Indiana State Department of Health tracking map labeled 45 of the state’s 92 counties the most dangerous red category, up 21 from a week earlier. Forty-six other counties were in the next-riskiest orange rating of the four-level system, which is updated weekly. Only east-central Indiana’s Jay County was rated “moderate risk,” the first county in four weeks to enter the yellow category.

A software error has caused underreporting in statewide COVID-19 positivity rates and for individual counties since the pandemic began, the state’s health commissioner, Dr. Kristina Box, announced last week.

The fix raised Indiana’s rate by 2.3 percentage points, bringing the reported positivity rate to 14.1% for all tests administered as of Dec. 22. Box previously said some smaller counties could see a decline in positivity rate after the changes, and six counties across the state recorded rates below 10%, a drop from 15 counties before the revisions.

The state health agency on Wednesday also added 109 confirmed COVID-19 deaths to the statewide toll. Those push Indiana’s toll to 8,160, including both confirmed and presumed infections, according to the agency’s daily statistic update.

With an additional 4,819 diagnosed cases reported Wednesday, the number of Indiana residents known to have had the coronavirus is now up to 505,017.

“The number of new cases this week has declined from what we have seen in recent weeks,” Box said Wednesday. “However, it’s too soon to say that we have turned a corner, and we do expect that the number of cases are going to bounce back up in the coming weeks.”

The state agency additionally reported that 2,941 residents were hospitalized with COVID-19 on Tuesday, 10 fewer patients than Monday.

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