INDIANAPOLIS – The delta variant has become dominant and COVID-19 cases are on the rise.
That’s according to the Indiana State Department of Health. Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box and Chief Medical Officer Lindsay Weaver discussed the status of the pandemic in Indiana during a Friday afternoon briefing.
Box and Weaver last held a briefing on July 9.
According to Box, the delta variant was found in more than 90% of samples tested this month in Indiana. Just weeks ago, the alpha variant, which originated in the UK, was the state’s dominant variant. Delta is fueling the current uptick in cases, Box said.
Indiana is seeing more than 900 cases per day and a 6.8% positivity rate this month, according to state health department data. Indiana was below 2,000 cases per week in June; however, in July, the state is seeing between 4,000 and 6,000 new cases per week. The demand for testing has been on the rise since the end of May.
The delta variant is such a concern because it’s twice as transmissible as the original COVID-19 virus. Box, as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, likened its transmissibility to chickenpox or measles. Delta has a higher viral load, Box said, allowing it to spread more quickly.
Statewide, hospitalizations are on the rise. COVID-19 deaths have not surged, but Box noted that deaths tend to lag behind hospitalization.
Box strongly recommended that everyone 2 and up wear masks based on revised recommendations from the CDC announced this week. She fully endorsed masks in schools but said the state wouldn’t mandate masks because it was “clear” that local leaders wanted more direct control over how their communities respond to the pandemic.
“I know many Hoosiers have different beliefs about masks, the vaccine and the pandemic as a whole. What I hope is we all share a personal responsibility to do no harm to others,” Box said.
“Until we increase our vaccination rates and unless we use every tool available to us to stop the spread of the disease, this virus will continue to have the advantage. It will continue to mutate, and we will constantly be playing whack-a-mole for the foreseeable future.”
About half of Hoosiers remain unvaccinated.
Weaver said vaccine demand has fallen off after the initial enthusiasm. The state measures vaccine progress “one shot at a time,” though Weaver said progress has slowed down significantly. Last week, the state saw its highest first-dose vaccination rate since the end of May. Indiana saw the largest vaccination gains in the age groups of 12 to 15 and 16 to 19, Weaver said.
Weaver also discussed breakthrough cases, noting that no vaccine is 100% effective. Vaccinated individuals who get COVID-19 have milder infections and tend to avoid being hospitalized.
“Breakthrough infections are still very low and tend to be mild, but we’re finding they’re more likely with delta than other variants,” Weaver said.
Weaver asked those who were still hesitant about the vaccine to “research credible, science-based sources.” She also recommended they talk to those who had already received the shot.
Ninety-eight percent of COVID-19 cases are occurring in Hoosiers who are unvaccinated, Weaver said, while 96% of COVID-19 deaths involve unvaccinated individuals.
State data showed there have been 3,710 breakthrough cases among Indiana’s nearly 3 million vaccinated individuals—a breakthrough rate of 0.126%. There have been 161 breakthrough hospitalizations (0.005%) and 56 breakthrough deaths (0.002%).
Of the breakthrough deaths, Weaver said 93% involved people over the age of 65.
When pressed about a statewide mask mandate or restrictions, Box said the state government would defer to local officials.
“I think that the state of Indiana is very much a state that very much feels that the control should be by local officials, and we are respecting that,” she said.
Businesses, on the other hand, have the ability to mandate vaccinations and masks. Box said she supported those efforts.