"A long December and there's reason to believe
Maybe this year will be better than the last
The smell of hospitals in winter
And the feeling that it's all a lot of oysters, but no pearls . . . ." 
- Counting Crows

By BRIAN A. HOWEY

INDIANAPOLIS - A year ago on New Year's Day 2021, there was reason for hope. After 9,578 pandemic Hoosier deaths in 2020, there was vaccine on the way that promised to protect our friends, families and communities while fully reopening society.

Today, the death toll stands at 19,171, and the University of Washington's Health Evaluation and Metrics site is projecting 25,931 deaths by April 1. This is before the Omicron variant fully invades the state, which has a 52% fully vaccine rate, one of the lowest in the nation.

As of Dec. 28, Indiana State Department of Health data revealed just 2.8% of ICU beds open in District 1 (The Region), and 2.5% in the Lafayette area. According to IU Northwest economics Prof. Micah Pollak, six out of 10 health districts (each of which serve many counties) have 10 or fewer ICU beds available. There was also a record 284 new cases reported among kids age 1 to 4 in Indiana (who are not eligible for vaccine), the second day in a row this record has been broken (188 the day before). 

On Jan. 7, 2021, Holcomb told Howey Politics Indiana, "At this moment, our moment, even knowing full well the awful toll of COVID-19 and acknowledging that we are still in its deadly grip, it’s important to look to the future – a future for our state and our citizens that I believe is full of opportunity and promise. We will remain laser-focused on managing our way through this pandemic and rolling out vaccines with all the energy and resources of our administration."

By May, it was evident that the vaccine had become politicized, with Attorney General Todd Rokita and U.S. Sen. Mike Braun actively seeking to thwart President Biden's vaccine mandate. Holcomb vetoed two bills that allowed the General Assembly to call itself into special session and another that gave locally elected officials veto power over local health officials. Both were overridden, and, launching Holcomb and Rokita into a legal feud.

In September, Holcomb lined up against the Biden testing mandates, which sent further conflicting signals. "The announcement from President Biden is a bridge too far," Holcomb said in a statement. "Private businesses should be able to look at their own mission, their staff and their goals and make the decision best for them that will keep their doors open. I believe it is fundamentally a citizen’s right to choose whether or not to get the vaccine. While I wish everyone would get the vaccine, we are a country built on this exact type of freedom.”

Holcomb and a number of other Republicans paid lip service to the vaccine, but didn't barnstorm the state or cut PSAs urging Hoosiers to vaccinate.

How this type of leader mattered was demonstrated in the 8th and 3rd CDs. In the 8th CD, Rep. Larry Bucshon, M.D. joined other “doctors of the House” urging vaccination. “Getting the shot is the best way to end the government’s restrictions on our freedoms,” Bucshon said when he spoke into the camera in a Facebook video. “I know the facts and I think it’s the right choice to make. Each vaccine was tested on tens of thousands of people. They cut red tape, not corners. While I am a doctor, I am also Republican member of Congress and I fully respect that this is your decision to make with your doctor. Talk to your doctor.”

In Bucshon’s 8th CD, vaccination rates in August: Vanderburgh County 47%, Warrick 52%, Pike 47%, Perry at 45%, Dubois at 46%, Vigo 41%, Knox 40%, Posey 38%, Gibson 37%, Spencer 36%, Vermillion 37%, Daviess 26%, and Martin 39%.

In the 3rd CD, U.S. Rep. Jim Banks told the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, “I’m a congressman, not a doctor or a pastor. My constituents don’t elect me to tell them what to do or to preach to them. It was a personal decision.” In August, the 3rd CD vaccination rate was: Allen County 43%, Huntington 42%, Noble 32%, Adams 28%, Whitley 39%, Wabash 35%, DeKalb 35%, Grant 34%, Steuben 40%, Kosciusko 33%, Wells 35%, Blackford 37%, Jay 30%, and LaGrange 19%.

Bucshon's style of “leadership” contrasts with other Republicans, who took a passive approach as those opposed to the vaccine dug in. The result has become the swamping of our medical system. Now is not the time to have a heart attack, a stroke or a personal injury auto accident. If you show up at an Indiana emergency room this week, you may end up in a hallway or a conference room for hours, if not days.

Masking during the latter stages of the Delta variant and the coming onslaught of Omicron is has ebbed to just 24%, according to the University of Washington metrics site.

Atlanta Journal & Constitution cartoonist Mike Luckovich captured our 2022 dilemma with a man wagging his finger at President Biden: "I won't wear a mask and won't get vaccinated! And why haven't you ended the pandemic?!"