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Coronavirus: Vaccines Open To Hoosiers 70+, Emergency Powers Bill Heard In Committee

Hoosiers 70 and older can now register for appointments to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. The Indiana Department of Health announced the expansion Wednesday.

Hoosiers 70 and older can now register for appointments to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. The Indiana Department of Health announced the expansion Wednesday. (Justin Hicks/IPB News)

The Indiana Department of Health reported 323 additional confirmed deaths over the last week. That brings the state’s total to 8,936 confirmed deaths. The state also reported more than 26,500 new cases in the last week – the smallest weekly total reported since Halloween.

Since moving to Stage 5 of its reopening plan on Sept. 26, the state has reported 472,844 positive cases and 5,546 confirmed deaths – 80.1 percent of the state’s total positive cases and 62 percent of deaths for the entire pandemic.

Here are your statewide COVID-19 headlines from last week.

Officials Defend Vaccine Rollout After Opening To Hoosiers 70+: 'Our System Is Working'

Hoosiers 70 and older can now register for appointments to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. The Indiana Department of Health announced the expansion Wednesday.

If you or a loved one falls into that age group, you can register at OurShot.in.gov. If you’re in need of assistance, you can call 211 or one of Indiana’s Area Agencies on Aging

For those registering online, at the top of the page, there is a muted red bar that reads "Click here to find a vaccination site and register." 

That will redirect you to a map, which lists vaccination sites by county. Select the one closest to you (or your loved one). And then select "Click here to register." Select what group best describes you, and then register for your vaccine.

Indiana state officials say their COVID-19 vaccine rollout plan is working as designed. But there’s still no word on when younger Hoosiers – including front line workers and those with underlying conditions that put them at higher risk – will be able to get it.

Health Officials Identify United Kingdom COVID-19 Strain In Indiana

The Indiana Department of Health announced a new strain of COVID-19 – which had previously been identified in the United Kingdom – is also in Indiana.

State Health Commissioner Dr. Kris Box said the new strain appears to be more easily spread, but it does not appear to be more deadly. 

“It’s more important than ever that Hoosiers continue to wear their masks, practice social distancing, maintain good hygiene and get vaccinated when they are eligible,” Box said in a statement.

Thomas Duszynski is an epidemiologist at IUPUI’s Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health. He told the statewide talk show All IN more cases often lead to an increase in severity.

“As the number of cases increases, we’re going to see more hospitalizations, we’re going to see more severe disease … and then unfortunately, increased mortality from this new strain,” he said.

READ MORE: How Will Indiana Distribute COVID-19 Vaccines? Here's What You Need To Know

Join the conversation and sign up for the Indiana Two-Way. Text "Indiana" to 73224. Your comments and questions in response to our weekly text help us find the answers you need on COVID-19 and other statewide issues.

Bill Would Give Legislature More Chances To Block Governor's Emergency Orders

Lawmakers are debating whether to give the General Assembly more opportunities to cancel a governor’s public emergency order.

The legislation, presented Tuesday in a House committee, is a direct reaction to some lawmakers’ frustration with Gov. Eric Holcomb during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under current law, the governor can declare a public emergency – like the health emergency during the pandemic – for 30 days. There’s no limit on how many times it can be renewed; Holcomb has done it 10 times since March.

Those declarations trigger broad authority for the governor to act. Holcomb has used such powers to, for instance, issue the "Stay-At-Home" order early in the pandemic, as well as impose restrictions on businesses and limit public gatherings.

Indiana Bill Seeks To Let Workers Opt Out Of Employer-Mandated Vaccines

A bill that would give Hoosier workers the right to refuse employer-mandated vaccines had its first hearing in a committee Wednesday morning. It would go further than current federal laws and excuse workers based on their conscience.

Currently, federal laws allow employers to have mandatory vaccine policies but workers can opt out if they have a medical disability or sincerely held religious belief. However, if an employer determines that creates a threat to others, it can “exclude” that employee from the workplace.

Sen. Dennis Kruse (R-Auburn), author of the bill, said it goes a step further and exempts employees from vaccination based on personal choice.

“The word ‘conscience’ is the essence of the bill,” Sen. Kruse said. “That’s the additional part that is not in existing law.”

Legislative Leaders Say They'll Address Enforcement Of Mask-Wearing At Statehouse

A legislative committee hearing last week was disrupted when dozens of people who showed up to testify refused to wear masks – which are required in the Statehouse.

Many wore face masks to enter the building, but then removed them while waiting to support a bill offering personal choice as a valid reason to refuse mandatory workplace vaccinations. Their behavior directly violated published Statehouse safety protocols, however witnesses say there was no enforcement. 

Dr. Amy Beth Kressel was prepared to testify in opposition of the vaccination bill for Eskenazi Health, but says she left before testifying to avoid waiting in a crowd of people without masks. 

People were allowed not to wear masks and basically drive opposing people away,” Kressel said. “It’s really disturbing and I really do think it’s a problem.”

Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray (R-Martinsville) said on Thursday that legislative leaders are working with Capitol Police to fix the issue.

“We intend to make it a safe place where people can feel comfortable to come,” Bray said.

Holcomb's Proposed Budget Spends One-Time Money To Pay Down Debt, Not Direct Relief

Gov. Eric Holcomb’s new state budget proposal would spend $1.13 billion over the next two years on one-time initiatives. And almost none of that would be direct relief for Hoosiers struggling during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Holcomb administration officials call the state’s financial situation a “pleasant surprise” – Indiana budget reserves should return to pre-pandemic levels this year.

Holcomb’s proposed state budget does increase K-12 funding by $377 million over the next two years – that's an increase from current spending of 2 percent in the first year and an additional 1 percent the second year.

GOP Legislative Leaders Not Totally Sold On Holcomb's Spending Proposal

Indiana Republican legislative leaders aren’t totally sold on Gov. Eric Holcomb’s proposal to spend nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars this year to pay down state debt instead of direct relief for Hoosiers struggling during the pandemic.

Holcomb’s proposal would spend $702 million out of budget reserves this year to pay down debt on capital projects, highway construction and a teacher retirement fund. That frees up money in the future, long a priority for Republicans.

Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray (R-Martinsville) said it’s nice to be able to have that kind of debate in a year when so many other states are struggling financially.

“Trying to make sure that we get Hoosiers back on their feet and help those that are really struggling is going to continue, of course, to be a priority,” Bray said.

Contact Lauren at lchapman@wfyi.org or follow her on Twitter at @laurenechapman_.

For the latest news and resources about COVID-19, bookmark our Coronavirus In Indiana page here

Want to contact your legislators about an issue that matters to you? Find out how to contact your senators and member of Congress here.

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