The Indiana governor’s office acknowledged Wednesday that the statewide COVID-19 public health emergency will likely extend into the new year after a failed attempt by legislators to quickly approve steps the governor sought to let the declaration expire.
Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb signed the 21st monthlong extension of the public health emergency he first issued in March 2020 along with an executive order continuing a handful of administrative actions but no business or crowd restrictions. Both orders are in effect until Jan. 1.
Holcomb’s emergency order said about 95% of recent COVID-19 hospitalizations and 75% of deaths in the state involved unvaccinated people and stated that “the virus remains a threat to the health, safety and welfare of all residents of Indiana.”
Indiana has seen a roughly 80% increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations over the past three weeks, with about one-quarter of those patients being treated in intensive care units, according to tracking by the Indiana Department of Health. The state is averaging about 20 COVID-19 deaths a day.
Holcomb outlined administrative steps last month that the Legislature could put into state law after which he would end the public health emergency. Republican legislative leaders, however, scuttled a planned fast-track approval of the measure following objections from medical and business groups over provisions added by lawmakers that would force broad exemptions from workplace vaccination requirements.
With the Republican-dominated Legislature not expected to take action on the proposal until its regular session begins in early January, the governor’s office said further health emergency orders “may be deemed necessary” in order for the state to keep receiving some federal COVID-19 funding.
That includes $175 million in anticipated federal Medicaid funding to the state through March for about 250,000 people and for some 200,000 households to continue receiving an additional $95 a month in federal food assistance, according to the governor’s office.
Health experts have argued now is not the time to end the state’s public health emergency as Indiana and other Midwestern states have seen a new surge of COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations even before identification of the omicron variant last week sparked new worldwide concerns.
Indiana has the nation’s 11th lowest rate for a fully vaccinated population at 50.6%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But many Republican legislators are responding to complaints among conservatives about Holcomb’s ongoing orders even though the statewide mask mandate and other public restrictions he had issued expired months ago.
Republican Rep. Chris Jeter of Fishers said he believed the Legislature should have met as planned this week to adopt the proposal that would force businesses to grant COVID-19 vaccination requirement exemptions to employees without any questions.
“To remain in a state of emergency for nearly two years has harmed our workers, businesses and students,” Jeter said. “It’s also done immeasurable damage to our separation of powers and has eroded the power of the legislative branch.”