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Get the latest on the global Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic as it impacts Northwest Indiana, the state, country, and globe. Bookmark this page as there will be several updates each day from Lakeshore Public Radio, IPB News, NPR, and the Associated Press.

Coronavirus: Holcomb Tightens Restrictions, Indiana Hits New COVID-19 Milestones

Justin Hicks
IPB News

The Indiana State Department of Health reported 551 additional confirmed deaths over the last week – the most reported in a single week during the pandemic, and nearly double the high reported in April. That brings the state’s total to 6,495 confirmed deaths. ISDH also reported nearly 43,000 new cases in the last week.

Since moving to Stage 5 of its reopening plan on Sept. 26, the state has reported 308,067 positive cases and 3,105 confirmed deaths – 72.4 percent of the state’s total positive cases and 47.8 percent of deaths of the state’s pandemic totals.

The state’s hospital census has dropped for the last five days, to 3,108 Hoosiers hospitalized with COVID-19 on Sunday – the lowest since Nov. 19. 

Here are your statewide COVID-19 headlines from last week.

Holcomb Orders Non-Emergency Surgeries Postponed Amid COVID-19 Surge

Gov. Eric Holcomb says Indiana hospitals must postpone or reschedule non-emergency surgeries for the next few weeks as COVID-19’s surge worsens statewide.

From at least Dec. 16 to Jan. 3, Holcomb’s order cancels elective, in-patient surgeries that would have been done in the hospital.

“The decision to postpone non-emergent hospital procedures reflects the fact that our hospital systems are stretched to the limit,” said State Health Commissioner Dr. Kris Box.

Holcomb is also barring local health departments from waiving social gathering limits imposed by the state. So, for instance, in counties experiencing the worst COVID-19 spread, it’s 25 people or less. In the second-to-worst category – orange, on the state’s color-coded map – it’s 50.

Indiana Expects To Get 55,000 Doses Of COVID-19 Vaccine This Week

Indiana officials say the state expects to get about 55,000 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine this week, with further amounts still unknown.

Drugmaker Pfizer was granted its emergency use authorization on Friday, Dec. 11.

Indiana Health Department Chief Medical Officer Dr. Lindsay Weaver said health care workers and nursing home residents are top of the priority list. But she said the very first doses aren’t enough to cover that entire population.

“Because it is a smaller amount that very first week, the invitation to get registered and get the vaccine is going directly to the hospitals across the state and then will go to our long-term care staff,” Weaver said.

Indiana Surpasses 6,000 Confirmed COVID-19 Deaths, Reports 1,000 In 16 Days

Just more than two weeks after reaching 5,000 confirmed COVID-19 deaths, Indiana reported its 6,000th on Tuesday. The Indiana State Department of Health reported 6,109 Hoosiers are confirmed to have died from COVID-19.

State health officials say there are an additional 301 suspected COVID-19 deaths – where a test wasn’t administered but health care professionals believe the person had the virus.

With Tuesday’s updates, Dec. 2 set a new grim record with 74 Hoosiers dying from COVID-19 on that day. April’s single day record was 50 deaths. 

The rate of newly reported deaths has continued its exponential climb in the last several weeks. Indiana averaged 11 deaths per day in September, 24 in October, growing to 51 in November.

The state has averaged more than 60 deaths per day for the last two weeks.

Indiana Hits 400,000 Positive Cases, Current Surge Places It Fourth Worst In Nation

Indiana surpassed 400,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases, reporting more than half of its total in a little over a month. The state’s current surge places it fourth worst in the U.S.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over the last seven days, Indiana’s new cases per 100,000 residents puts it fourth worst in the country – behind North Dakota, Rhode Island and Tennessee.

The state hasn’t reported fewer than 4,000 cases per day since Nov. 4.

Since the state moved to Stage 5 of its reopening plan on Sept. 26, Fountain, Parke, Warren and Wabash counties have seen their cases grow by more than eight times their Stage 4.5 totals. 

Majority Of Hoosiers Want To Limit Governor's Emergency Powers In New Survey

A majority of Hoosiers say the governor’s emergency powers should be more limited according to the latest edition of the Ball State Hoosier survey, a poll of 600 Indiana residents.

Sixty percent of Hoosiers in the survey support changing Indiana law to require the General Assembly approve any extension of a governor’s emergency order beyond 30 days. That includes 56 percent of Democrats and 63 percent of Republicans.

Gov. Eric Holcomb has used emergency powers during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic to, among other things, temporarily shut down some businesses during the "Stay-At-Home" order and require – without enforcement – mask-wearing while in public.

The results come ahead of a likely debate in the 2021 session over many Republican lawmakers’ desire to curtail the governor’s emergency powers.

DWD Appeals Judges Now Making Unexpected House Calls

The Indiana Department of Workforce Development is trying to speed up the processfor resolving disputes about unemployment eligibility by making unscheduled phone calls. Lawyers say making the process faster could be a good thing, but worry it could have unintended consequences.

When DWD tells a person they are ineligible for unemployment benefits, or that they’ve been overpaid benefits, that person can appeal the decision in front of an administrative law judge. But with the large amount of people appealing this year, that process has gotten backlogged.

DWD says judges will now make unscheduled phone calls, seven days a week, to workers and employers disputing an unemployment claim.

Indiana Republicans Want CARES Money To Help Refill Unemployment Fund

Indiana Republicans are asking Gov. Eric Holcomb to use federal CARES Act funds to begin paying back money it borrowed for the unemployment trust fund. They worry businesses across the state could get stuck with higher federal taxes.

When Indiana depleted a trust fund that pays unemployment benefits earlier this year, it started getting advances from the federal government to continue payments. Many other states have done the same throughout the pandemic.

But federal guidelines say that if the advance isn’t paid off in two years, employers could start seeing higher federal taxes on each of their employees.

Rep. Dan Leonard (R-Huntington) said it would unfairly place a burden on businesses that had no control over the pandemic or government restrictions attempting to curb it.

National Survey Offers Glimpse At COVID-19's Effect On Hoosier Workforce

Throughout the pandemic, federal estimates show about half of Hoosier employers told workers not to work at some point. But the U.S. Bureau Labor Statistics says a significant number still paid workers or kept paying health insurance premiums. 

BLS surveyed businesses across the country to quantify how the pandemic affected workers and employers. The impacts in Indiana were mostly on par with national averages. Even though more than 50 percent saw a decrease in demand, only about 15 percent closed due to government orders.

Kevin Brinegar, president and CEO of the Indiana Chamber, said he saw more exaggerated versions of those same trends in surveys it conducted earlier this year. He’s most worried about the bottom third of wage earners who he says are still suffering economically.

“One of the things that this underscores, for Indiana, is that we have lots of work to do to lift up the skills and the training of our adult workforce,” he said.

Nonprofits Struggle To Address Increased Demand For Help With Utility Bills

As colder temperatures drive up utility bills, many people unemployed because of COVID-19 are still having trouble paying them. Local nonprofit agencies say getting Hoosiers the financial help they need is proving challenging.

They say they’re hearing from more people with overdue utility bills and at higher amounts than in the past.

“So I’ve been doing — in energy assistance to some capacity for over 20 years and I have never seen bills, you know, $1,800, $2,500, $3,000 bills,” said Gina Gomez of Northwest Indiana Community Action.

Join the conversation and sign up for the Indiana Two-Way. Text "Indiana" to 73224. Your comments and questions in response to our weekly text help us find the answers you need on COVID-19 and other statewide issues.

Mary Paulsen works for the Area Four Agency out of Lafayette. She said even if her agency is able to pay part of the person’s bill, some of these bills are so high that it’s not always enough to keep them from getting disconnected.

“Some vendors won’t stop that disconnect unless the pledge covers the entire disconnect amount. If it does not cover the entire disconnect amount, then the client is responsible for covering that. I had a client that owed a difference of $700 to stop her disconnect, she did not have that and has been out trying to get help,” she said.

Local Indiana Governments Can Apply For More COVID-19 Relief

Local governments across Indiana can apply for more money from the state to help address fallout from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The state announced the third phase of its COVID-19 Response Program is now open for applications.

The first two rounds sent more than $20 million to more than 60 communities statewide. The third round – made possible again with federal funding – will provide up to $250,000 for communities in need.

The money can be used to support a variety of programs, including mental health services, childcare services, public Wi-Fi locations, food pantries and food banks and grants or loans for businesses to help retain jobs.

Indiana House Speaker Todd Huston Tests Positive For COVID-19

Indiana House Speaker Todd Huston (R-Fishers) has COVID-19.

Huston’s office confirmed Thursday he recently tested positive and is experiencing mild symptoms. He is currently quarantining at home.

Huston said he hasn’t been in recent contact with other legislative members or staff and that he hadn’t been to the Statehouse in person within the last week.

Contact Lauren at lchapman@wfyi.org or follow her on Twitter at @laurenechapman_.

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