INDIANAPOLIS – Ending the COVID-19 public health emergency has a lot of symbolism attached from both sides.
Those tired of the renewals by Gov. Eric Holcomb want to end the order to show the state is moving past the pandemic and back into normalcy and growth.
But those pointing to rising case and hospitalization numbers say ending the order sends the wrong message – that Hoosiers no longer need to take precautions.
So where is Holcomb on the topic? He told legislators three administrative changes he needed in law to “responsibly” end the order, then extended it through the year when they balked.
“I don't subscribe to either of those sides. I really don't,” he told The Journal Gazette in a sit-down end-of-year interview.
Legislators will hear comments on ending the public health emergency at 9 a.m. Dec. 16. The language has been filed in House Bill 1001 and the House Employment Labor and Pensions Committee will hold a hearing. Another key part of the bill severely restricts employers from having vaccine mandates for employees.
“COVID-19 is with us. It's with us for a while; till it's not. Our positivity rate is at a point that I don't like. Our vaccination rate's at a point I don't like,” Holcomb said.
Indiana's positivity rate rose to 14.7% with 4,241 new cases and 93 new deaths reported Tuesday. Allen County had eight deaths and 338 new cases.
Indiana currently has about 53% of eligible Hoosiers vaccinated and 50% of all Hoosiers vaccinated.
But Holcomb has also spoken to gubernatorial cohorts, including Gov. Chris Sununu of New Hampshire. That state has a vaccination rate of 74% and yet “his state and its hospitals are surging right now. They're overwhelmed.”
Holcomb said “this virus finds the unvaccinated and feasts on them.” He said that can lead to hospitals being overwhelmed and Hoosiers with other ailments facing delays or lack of access to care.
While Holcomb doesn't believe in a vaccine mandate, he does believe in the compelling data showing that 70% to 80% of new cases, hospitalizations and deaths are in the unvaccinated week after week.
“Nothing's more compelling than that. And nothing's more sad than people who learn after the fact,” he said.
Holcomb also noted that it's not just old people with comorbidities dying.
He recited a story of a 23-year-old man infected with COVID-19 – likely at his wedding – within the last month. He has since died – even before the wedding pictures were back.