INDIANAPOLIS — The number of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths will continue to rise in Indiana as the delta variant surges across the country if people do not get vaccinated and wear masks, state health officials said during a press conference on Friday.
"Layered mitigation is the answer to this," Dr. Kristina Box, the Indiana Department of Health's commissioner, said during the state's COVID-19 update on Friday.
Layered mitigation for Hoosiers of all ages, according to Dr. Box, should include getting the COVID-19 vaccine, if eligible, and mask-wearing when in large groups indoors. Especially students and teachers.
Dr. Box says they're seeing a rise in children who are not yet eligible to receive the vaccine being hospitalized with the virus.
“This is the darkest time in the pandemic," she said.
Dr. Box, alongside IDH's chief medical officer Dr. Lindsay Weaver, expressed her disappointment in the fact that nearly half of eligible people who can get vaccinated in Indiana have not. Exactly 48% of Hoosiers are unvaccinated at this point.
This allows the delta variant — which makes up 98% of hospitalized Hoosiers — to thrive, Dr. Weaver said.
Adding to their disappointment are the measures the state has taken to help ensure vaccinations and to mitigate misinformation that appears to be running rampant.
“We are working very hard to get the accurate message out there," Dr. Box said.
For those who are willing, the state has helped set up rapid testing sites at schools, has opened 50 mobile vaccination sites across Indiana in just the past week, and is traveling to rural areas. To further that help, the state once again is going to send out Indiana National Guardsmen, as they did previously in the pandemic.
Under Indiana Code, Dr. Box stated, schools are supposed to report COVID-19 cases in a mass setting. But it's clear that schools are not as the state is receiving calls from parents and school nurses with concerns that are evident quarantines are happening but yet schools are showing zero cases on their own dashboards or on the state's school dashboard.
Dr. Box adding that schools could decrease transmission if kids and teachers remained masked the entire school day.
As for the statistics Dr. Box and Dr. Weaver presented, of the 1,288 Hoosiers hospitalized with COVID-19 last week 1,271 were not vaccinated, seven were.
Dr. Weaver said the odds of those unvaccinated needing an ICU are much greater than those with the vaccine, as well.
"I think we are fully expecting and preparing that things are gonna get much worse with our hospitalizations here in the next four weeks," Dr. Weaver added.
And the hot topic of the week: Ivermectin.
Echoing the CDC, Dr. Box and Dr. Weaver warn that people should not be taking ivermectin, which is a drug veterinarians use to cure parasitic infections in large animals.
Dr. Weaver even adding that tests have been done on ivermectin in relation to COVID-19 and it was proven that it does not work.
“Don’t take medicine that’s prescribed for animals," Dr. Box said simply.
As for the good news — and yes there was good news — the state saw a 10% increase in vaccination appointments.
In the past week more than 83,000 vaccines, first and second, were administered. And earlier this week, the Federal Drug Administration granted approval of the Pfizer vaccine.
But, if the vaccination rate doesn't continue to move higher and Hoosiers — especially in schools or in congregate settings — do not wear their masks, the coronavirus pandemic will get worse.
"The next two to four weeks, or maybe even as long as six weeks, no — things are going to get worse if Hoosiers do not start wearing masks to prevent transmission and more Hoosiers don't get vaccinated," the state health commissioner said. "We are going to see cases continue to increase probably 'til right after Labor Day, and then we will see hospitalizations follow as far as their increase within that next two to three weeks. I think the thing we are really able to control by getting vaccines now is whether we have another surge this difficult, this bad, later in the winter or in the early January, February time."
You can watch the entire news conference with updates from Dr. Box and Dr. Weaver in the video attached to this article above.