Indiana order blocks local bans on virus patient moves

Nursing homes around Indiana will be allowed to establish facilities specifically for coronavirus patients under an order issued Tuesday by the state health commissioner. The action came after state health officials said Indiana’s COVID-19 death toll had grown by 37 to 387.

Nursing homes

Elderly people and those with serious health troubles living in nursing homes are among the most at-risk from COVID-19 infections. At least 46 residents of 12 long-term care facilities in Indiana have died from the virus, including more than 20 patients from an Anderson nursing home, according to the state health department.

But an attempt by a nursing home operator to concentrate coronavirus patients at a facility in the southwestern Indiana city of Washington met opposition from local residents and was banned by the county health officer. Officials in eastern Indiana’s Delaware County issued a similar order earlier this month.

Dr. Kristina Box, the state health commissioner, said she has worked closely with local health departments but the statewide order can help nursing homes protect residents who aren’t ill and better care for those who are infected.

“We fully believe that this is a necessary step to help to further protect the vulnerable residents in our 92 counties,” Box said.

The Indiana Health Care Association, which represents nursing homes, said in a statement that the state should help identify alternative treatment locations for COVID-19 patients and make sure long-term care workers have adequate protection supplies.

African American concerns

Some state lawmakers called Tuesday for Gov. Eric Holcomb’s administration to take more steps to protect African Americans from the coronavirus.

About 20% of Indiana’s virus deaths have been black residents, about double their percentage of the state population. African Americans around the country have been dying at higher rates.

Members of the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus said the state should increase testing in neighborhoods with large minority populations and require paid time off for workers in low-paid jobs in groceries and restaurants who can’t afford to miss work when they are ill.

Democratic Rep. Robin Shackleford of Indianapolis, the group’s chairwoman, said since African Americans suffer from higher rates of obesity, diabetes and asthma, more has to be done to emphasize the dangers of the virus.

“Because we have these prior conditions, because we may be more susceptible, if we get the virus it could be very deadly,” Shackleford said. “I don’t think that message has been getting out.”

Box said Tuesday that the health department was working to increase testing availability in cities such as Gary, Fort Wayne and Evansville at locations accessible to minority workers.

Additional deaths

The latest reported deaths included one that occurred March 15, which is a day before what had been Indiana’s first recorded COVID-19 death.

Indiana’s official toll didn’t yet include the state’s first prison inmate fatality, which occurred Monday at the Westville Correctional Facility. The inmate was older than 70, according to the Department of Correction.

Tests confirmed virus infections among 27 inmates at seven of Indiana’s 22 prison system facilities, the agency’s commissioner said Monday.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana and other prisoner advocates have unsuccessfully pushed for the release of prison inmates who face greater risk from virus infections because of other illnesses. Holcomb repeated his stance Tuesday against the early release of any inmates, though local law enforcement agencies have been considering early-release options since Indiana’s outbreak began.

State health officials added 313 more COVID-19 cases to make Indiana’s total more than 8,500.

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