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Brian Howey: Across Indiana, coronavirus is winning the day

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The people don’t always get it right. From slavery, to the right of women and minorities to vote, from the way we’ve treated our mentally ill, to Jim Crow laws and school segregation, it took “leaders” to cut through prevailing opinion, gossip and innuendo, and forge evolving, visionary policy creating a more perfect union.

When it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic - the most lethal health sequence in Indiana history that has claimed more than 14,000 lives - the General Assembly moved at the behest of some of the people to crimp the power of our governor. Instead of waiting for this pandemic to end, comprehensively study responses and results, and then make policy changes, the General Assembly passed laws and overrode vetoes by Gov. Eric Holcomb to send public health mandates and restrictions into the hands of local units of government like county commissioners and school boards.

So, how’s that going?

Half the Indiana population is fully vaccinated, leaving the other half exposed, and now the “end of the tunnel” forecasted by Holcomb last March is now in its fourth surge, on course to surpass those of last fall and winter. It was wholly avoidable.

According to state health officials, four of Indiana’s 10 hospital districts are now above 100% of Intensive Care Unit beds occupied. According to the University of Washington’s very credible health metrics evaluation website, another 6,000 Hoosiers will die between now and Dec. 1, with the daily death toll reaching 130 by mid-October. Our ICU nurses are overwhelmed and burned out, which is exacerbating a shortage of medical personnel. After shifts where they are the last human a doomed COVID patient sees, these ICU nurses drive past bars, restaurants and stadiums filled with unmasked people.

After school boards witnessed the complaints of anti-mask and anti-vaccine advocates, many decided against masking (the Associated Press reported that 54% of students are under a masking mandate), and now more than 5,000 students, faculty and staff are either exposed or are in quarantine. About 60 school districts have retreated back to “virtual” learning formats over the past couple of weeks.

Holcomb firmly believes the control of the COVID-19 pandemic now lies in the hands of local governments and school boards. “We heard loud and clear from locals they wanted this to be locally mandated, fully supported,” Holcomb said at a Wednesday press conference. “It’s regrettable that so many of our kids are out of the classroom on any given one day. It’s not just regrettable, it’s avoidable.

“And to the skeptics, to the unbelievers and deniers, I would just plead to look at the facts, to look at the numerical data that shows we can all stay safe if you get vaccinated,” Holcomb said. “That is my appeal is to get vaccinated. This is what is interfering with our supply chains, this is what is holding part of our economy back, this is what is keeping our kids out of school. While we have 3.1 million and some who are vaccinated, the balance leaves a lot to spread and that is having an adverse effect on others, not just potentially yourself but others, and our economy, and our kids’ education. I would just ask that you think beyond yourself. The answer is the vaccine. The further we stray from that fact, the longer this will take.”

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Holcomb has assumed the much politically safer position of asset manager, signing two executive orders on Wednesday to help hospitals manage this fourth surge and school districts that mask to organize quarantining. He also ordered hospitals to report ambulance diversions to other facilities, a blinking bright-red light that all is not well on our medical system front.

While Holcomb, one of the most popular political figures in the state, advocates for people to vaccinate, he hasn’t used his social media platforms or recorded public service announcements to urge people to protect themselves and their communities. Neither have most of the Indiana congressional delegation beyond U.S. Rep. Larry Bucshon, a heart surgeon by trade.

It will be corporations, the military and insurance companies that will be doing the mandating, reacting to scores of unvaccinated people in $20,000-a-day ICU beds.

COVID-19 is winning in Indiana.

The pandemic is becoming a fact of life at a time many of us expected it to be retreating into the rearview mirror. At last Friday’s press conference conducted by Health Commissioner Kris Box, she described this state of 6.7 million people as entering its “darkest hour of the pandemic.”

“Many of our hospitals are once again struggling with staffing and capacity issues,” said Dr. Box, who described a “sharp increase” in the number of pediatric cases involving 5- to 9-year-olds as well as older teenagers. “We have also seen an increase in children being hospitalized. Many of these children are not yet eligible to be vaccinated. To anyone who argues that COVID-19 does not impact children, I can assure you that every parent with a hospitalized child would disagree.”

As Friday’s pandemic media avail continued, it became increasingly apparent that Dr. Box and her team were becoming frustrated. Dr. Lindsay Weaver, the state’s chief medical officer added, “I think we are fully preparing that things are going to get much worse with our hospitalizations in the next four weeks.”

The wild card here is that with COVID out of control in Indiana and America, a mutation beyond this highly transmissible delta variant could throw all the people for a loop.

Brian Howey is publisher of Howey Politics Indiana at www.howeypolitics.com. Find Howey on Facebook and Twitter @hwypol.