CHICAGO (CBS) – Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb along with State Health Officials addressed the latest rise of COVID-19 in the state Wednesday afternoon. The briefing comes after Lake County set a new record in daily reported cases.

Gov. Holcomb was joined by Dr. Kristina Box and Dr. Lindsay Weaver to discuss the latest numbers and the importance of getting vaccinated during the conference.

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According to the new data, Lake County is seeing a report of 593 daily cases, compared to 588 in 2020.

Dr. Box announced that 3.5 million people statewide are vaccinated and 1.3 million have been boosted. However, the number of hospitalizations has increased by 700% since late June. Large cases include ages 40 and under – for 9 and under, the rates increased from 3% to 10 %. Dr. Box also mentioned that schools have seen an increase in cases from 6% to 14% in October.

 

The increase of COVID patients has led to an increase in hospitalization, the highest in five years — causing longer wait times in hospitals and clinics. As CBS 2’s Asal Rezaei reported, hospitals have seen some of the highest hospitalization numbers since the beginning of the pandemic.

“I see this every time I work in the ER. We are often seeing patients being held in the emergency room for hours and sometimes days until a bed becomes available. Which is difficult for their patient, their family, and for the staff. Patients are being cared for in hallways and conference rooms,” Dr. Weaver said.

Dr. Weaver says hospitals are also facing staffing shortages. She advised Hoosiers to not go to the ER for a COVID test as they are stretched thin with cases.

“I like to add a plea to not go to the ER just for testing. As I mentioned our ER’s are stretched to the limit with very sick patients and the additional volume of people seeking testing adds an additional strain.”

Other issues that contributed to the rise in cases include a shortage of rapid tests Dr. Box said, with there being only 50,000 rapid tests available. So far, they have seen a 28% positivity rate with rapid testing.

Delta remains the dominant variant in Indiana but is expected to change quickly. Dr. Box said seeing Omicron in Indiana was expected as it was one of only a few states where the virus wasn’t detected.

“People infected with Omicron have a lot more virus in their throats waiting to be expelled when they exhale, cough, or sneeze. The CDC expects that everyone with Omicron infection can spread the virus to others even if they do not have symptoms, or are vaccinated,” Dr. Box said.

So far, only 54% of the state’s population is vaccinated. Dr. Weaver urges people to get their COVID shots as half of those who are eligible are not vaccinated.

“Unfortunately, nearly half of the eligible population are still unvaccinated against COVID-19. And of those who are fully vaccinated, just over one-third have received the booster dose. I’ve heard many people say they do not think they need to get the vaccine because they’ve already had COVID. We do not know how long those natural antibodies last, and many people wound up getting COVID more than once,” Dr. Weaver said.

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The state will no longer offer Johnson and Johnson at their state vaccination sites due to its low results against the Omicron variant and reported causes of blood clots.

Dr. Weaver mentions the newly approved COVID-19 pills (Molnupiraviir, Paxloid, and Sotovimab) will become available at CVS and Walgreens pharmacies and to check the state’s website for locations. She says that in order to receive the treatment patients must have a prescription from their clinician and test positive for COVID, but there is no guarantee it will be available to those who meet the criteria due to limited supply.

In addition to Gov. Holcomb continuing his outreach to get more people vaccinated, he says there are more things people can do to help convenience others to get the vaccine.

“If you have been vaccinated and you’ve gotten your booster, that’s not all you can do. And if you can appeal to folks who are skeptical of the efficacy of the vaccine please do that. You may be the person someone trusts that’s holding out. I’ve heard these cases too. It could be in the Y, it could be at church. If you play bridge with a group, who knows what the group is, but if you are a trusted individual in your cohort, you can make the differences in someones else’s families.”

Indiana State Attorney General Todd Rokita questioned the COVID numbers in a TV interview last week. Gov. Holcomb said he hasn’t heard from Rokita and doesn’t plan to reach out to him.

“When he said he didn’t believe any numbers, I take the state is included in ‘any numbers’. If he doesn’t believe that he could simply clear it up and say, very clearly, one sentence ‘I believe the numbers that come out of the Indiana State Department Of Health. That’s it,” said Gov. Holcomb. “Those numbers are accurate. If there’s any accusation otherwise, legal, that becomes legal very quickly he needs to get it to the Inspector General and they can clear it up. If it is confusion, we can help, and that goes for anyone in the state of Indiana. Not just officeholders.”

Following the recent change in guidelines where quarantine has been reduced from 10 days to five days, Dr. Box says the ISDH supports the change based on the science.

“I really do because the data and the science behind that is that 85-90% of people are no longer infective after day five. So consequently, if you look at this there’s another 10-15%, and we’re really picking those people up by mandating, asking, requesting strongly if you want to follow these guidances that you need to be masked for the next five days anytime you’re around other people.”

Despite the rise in cases, Dr. Box says there are no plans for mask mandates but advise people to wear their mask indoors and around large crowds.

“We are certainly as we talk with our local health departments and providers continuing to recommend strongly and encourage the way to get through this Omicron surge is to have everyone be masked, especially inside, and when they’re in large groups outside in addition to getting vaccinated, etc. But realistically, we’re not in the process of planning a statewide masking mandate.”

The panel recommends those to self-isolate until they can get a test if symptomatic, adhere to wearing a mask, and get vaccinated as it remains the number one line of defense in stopping the spread of the illness.

 

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CBS 2 Chicago Staff