INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana’s COVID-19 precautions further eased Thursday under new executive orders issued by the governor, even as he cited worries about the state’s lagging vaccination rate.
The state’s public health emergency was extended until at least the end of July as Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb on Wednesday signed the 16th renewal of that order that he first issued in March 2020 as concerns about the coronavirus spread across the country.
Holcomb’s order pointed out that Indiana’s fully vaccinated rate of 48% among those ages 12 and older ranks the state 38th in the country — and that 98.5% of new COVID-19 infections are among unvaccinated people.
The coronavirus “remains a threat to the health, safety and welfare of all residents of Indiana,” the order said.
Holcomb has rejected incentive programs to encourage vaccinations, such as Michigan’s $5 million sweepstakes announced Thursday and Ohio’s $1 million prize drawings that ended last week.
He said Thursday that the state needed “to grind this out” and “pray that the variant doesn’t rear its ugly head, as it has in some other places.”
Indiana is averaging about 10,000 vaccine shots a day recently after peaking at more than 50,000 shots a day in mid-April, according to the state health department’s vaccination tracker.
“We are, again, relying on those closest to their employees, to their students, to make sure that folks know, they have the awareness, that the way to reduce the odds of either being hospitalized or getting COVID positive or, good Lord forbid, death is to get vaccinated,” Holcomb said. “… But we’re not going to force you to do something that you choose not to do.”
The state health department has recorded 36 coronavirus-related deaths over the past week, boosting Indiana’s pandemic toll to 13,855. The agency reported Indiana hospitals were treating about 400 COVID-19 patients as of Wednesday — after topping 3,000 a day for most of November and December.
Holcomb’s public health emergency order said its renewal ensures Indiana can continue responding effectively to the pandemic. It also keeps the state eligible for additional Medicaid funding and other federal assistance programs.
Holcomb has lifted nearly all statewide restrictions over recent months as Indiana’s levels of new COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths have declined to their lowest since widespread tracking began in spring 2020.
The statewide mask mandate ended in early April and Wednesday was the last day for the indoor mask requirement for students and K-12 school workers issued by Holcomb.
The governor said local school officials can decide whether to continue precaution steps when the new school year starts as those eligible for vaccinations have had “an abundance of opportunity” to get the shots.
“It’s a local decision that needs to be made locally to their comfort level,” Holcomb said.