Gov. Eric Holcomb with Indiana Health Commissioner Kris Box on Wednesday.
Gov. Eric Holcomb with Indiana Health Commissioner Kris Box on Wednesday.
By BRIAN A. HOWEY

INDIANAPOLIS - With Indiana hospitals girding for an unprecedented flood of mostly unvaccinated people after the Omicron variant overtakes Delta in the coming weeks, Gov. Eric Holcomb and senior health officials attempted Wednesday to prepare Hoosiers for the most lethal chapter of the COVID pandemic that has claimed close to 19,000 lives.

"We continue to get some curveballs thrown at us ... variants specifically," Holcomb said at his first press conference in months, adding that he would extend the state's public health emergency another 30 days. "Delta and Omicron have both crisscrossed the globe and really taken a couple hard whacks at our population. It's challenged our recovery efforts, for sure." Holcomb also attempted to comfort Indiana's racked and dwindling health care workforce, saying, "I know how tired you are. You’re making a huge difference one family at a time.”

The Governor's comments came as just 186 ICU beds are available statewide, a new record low, while 768 Hoosiers are in ICU.

Health Commissioner Kris Box explained, "At this time, Delta remains the predominant variant in Indiana but we expect that this will shift quickly. Omicron cases are doubling in some cities, including Chicago, every 2-3 days. We expect to see a very steep rise in the next few weeks. Our hospital census is at the highest level in an entire year. The number of people hospitalized with COVID has increased 700% since June. Our positivity rate is hovering around 40% and all of our counties are in orange or red advisory level."

As Indiana's hospitals are being engulfed for the fifth surge of the pandemic, Dr. Box acknowledged a lack of testing materials. "We are dealing with a shortage of rapid tests. We supply rapid tests to local health departments, our own mobile and IMS site, and entities including long-term care facilities. Each week those sites go through an average of 50,000 rapid tests."

The governor then addressed comments by Attorney General Todd Rokita, who told WSBT-TV last week that he doesn't "believe in any numbers any more and I'm sorry about that. They are politicized. This has been politicized since day one."

Holcomb said, “I will say I was stunned and somewhat blindsided by the attorney general. It is quite serious when you accuse anyone of inflating numbers. If there is a thread of evidence he needs to take that to the state's inspector general."

Holcomb added, "To me is attempting to fan the flames of confusion.”

In 2020, Holcomb had weekly press conferences to update Hoosiers on the pandemic. Those stopped last March when the governor gave his "light at the end of the tunnel" statewide address, suggesting that with the vaccine, society was poised to return to normal. Holcomb did not use his bully pulpit to urge Hoosiers to vaccinate after the numbers stalled out just under 50%. "It was absolutely counter to what I heard on the ground," he told HPI in December.

Now with the College Football Championship game set to come to Indianapolis in two weeks while the state's hospitals are maxed out, medical staff are quitting and needing a staffing infusion from the Indiana National Guard and U.S. Navy, Holcomb indicated that most unvaccinated Hoosiers won't listen to professionals, urging those with "personal connections" to make the case. 

"I'm going to put more of that on my shoulders -- to do more outreach," Holcomb said.

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