Health experts urge Hoosiers to stay the course

Local and state health officials are urging Hoosiers to not throw caution to the wind as cases decrease and vaccinations ramp up.

Johnson County this week moved to “blue,” according to the state’s color-coded metrics, the best it’s been since Gov. Eric Holcomb first implemented the color rating system, which is based on positivity rates and virus spread and determines how open a county can be.

With 120 cases reported in the last seven days and a 3.3% 7-day positivity rate, the county is solidly in “blue,” meaning the county can fully reopen at full capacity. However, Holcomb’s mask mandate remains in place and all Hoosiers must continue to wear face coverings in all public places.

Despite the change, experts say it doesn’t mean things can return to normal.

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Mask mandate debate

States such as Mississippi and Texas have fully reopened. Now, some Hoosier Republican lawmakers, including State Rep. John Jacob (R-Indianapolis), who represents parts of Johnson County and the southside, are calling for Holcomb to do the same.

Jacob’s office released a statement Tuesday asking Holcomb to follow in other states’ footsteps and lift the mask mandate.

“The time is now to trust them to make their own decisions related to COVID-19,” Jacob said in the statement.

So far, Holcomb is resisting those calls.

At his Wednesday press conference, Holcomb said he plans to stay the course with current guidelines because he is happy with the path the state is on. With half the counties in “blue” much of the state is essentially fully open, he said.

Holcomb last week extended the state’s color-coded guidelines and public health emergency order another 30 days, an effort to keep the guidelines in place through March Madness.

Though cases and deaths are low, state health commissioner Dr. Kristina Box said it is too early to call the pandemic over and stop wearing masks. For that to happen, many more people would have to be vaccinated and cases and hospitalizations would have to stay consistently low over time, she said.

Keeping up precautions

Johnson County has been fully open, with the exception of large events, for many months, though some restaurants and stores chose to scale back operations on their own.

That is OK with cases this low as long as other precautions remain in place, said Dr. David Dunkle, Johnson Memorial Health president and CEO. Leaving behind the mask mandate and frequent hand washing would be premature, he said.

As a basketball tournament and holiday approaches, he says failing to keep up guards at events such a crowded St. Patrick’s Day Party could yield another surge, especially considering the growing number of more contagious virus variants. Two new strains have been discovered in the United States.

“Mask wearing isn’t getting enough credit,” Dunkle said. “You only need to look as far as influenza (for proof it works). We have not had a single incidence of influenza admission. That is unheard of and 100% because of mask-wearing and handwashing.”

However, even if cases surge again, Dunkle and state officials are hopeful the next wave will not be as bad as the last holiday surge, because more elderly and at-risk patients are now vaccinated.

The vaccine race

State officials are expanding vaccine eligibility as quickly as possible in hopes of protecting as many as possible for the virus and its variants, said Dr. Lindsay Weaver, state medical examiner.

“We are in a race between the vaccine and the variants and we want the vaccine to win,” Weaver said.

The state on Wednesday expanded eligibility again to Hoosiers 50 to 54, meaning 80% of Hoosiers with co-morbidities are eligible. State officials say vaccinations will be the key to calling the pandemic over.

Large portions of the eligible population have been vaccinated or have an appointment scheduled, including 70% of Hoosiers 80 and older, 71% of Hoosiers 70 to 79, 56% of Hoosiers 60 to 69 and 28% of Hoosiers 55 to 59.

So far, about 20% of Johnson County adults have been vaccinated, meaning 80% are still unprotected, according to state data.

More than 24% of the county’s population — those under 18 — could not get the vaccine if state officials opened up the vaccine to the general public tomorrow. All three vaccines approved by the Food and Drug Administration are for those 18 and older.

With incremental improvements to the supply of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, and plans to distribute 21,000 doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccines at three planned mass vaccination clinics, the state is ramping up vaccinations.

Herd immunity

At the county’s current pace — about 24,500 doses in three months — it would take about eight months until 70% herd immunity is achieved among adults.

About 3,632 shots are given weekly at vaccination sites around the county. About 2,592 of those are given at the joint clinic of Johnson Memorial and Johnson County Health Department.

Windrose Health gives about 400 shots per week at its Edinburgh clinic.

Adult and Child Health gives between 120 and 140 shots per week at its Franklin primary clinic.

Kroger stores in Bargersville, Franklin and Greenwood each give about 100 shots per week, for a total of 400.

A Walmart representative would not provide the number of vaccines given at local Walmart and Sam’s Club stores offering the vaccine.

In Johnson County, 24,527 have received their first dose, and 14,728 are fully vaccinated, according to state data.

Across the state, 1.03 million first doses have been administered, and 608,638 individuals are fully vaccinated, state data shows.

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Here is a look at where you can get a vaccine in the county if you meet the criteria:

Johnson Memorial Hospital

When: Vaccines available 8 a.m. to 3:50 p.m. Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. Saturdays.

Where: Old emergency wing, 1125 W Jefferson St, Franklin. Parking in Blue Lot H.

Registration: Online at Call 211 or any Johnson County Public Library for help registering.

Adult and Child Health Franklin

When: Vaccines available noon to 4 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Where: 1860 Northwood Plaza, Franklin

Registration: Online at Call 211 or any Johnson County Public Library for help registering.

Windrose Health Edinburgh

When: Vaccines available 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday to Friday and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays. On Wednesdays the clinic is closed to the public but is open give shots allocated for regular Windrose patients.

Where: 911 E. Main Cross Street, Edinburgh

Registration: Online at Call 211 or any Johnson County Public Library for help registering.

Walmart and Sams Club Pharmacies

Where: Walmart stores at 2125 N Morton St, Franklin; 882 S State Road 135, Greenwood; 1133 N Emerson Avenue, Greenwood; Sams Club at 1101 Windhorst Way, Greenwood.

Registration: Online at Call 211 or any Johnson County Public Library for help registering.

Kroger Pharmacies

When: Daily, during pharmacy business hours

Where: Kroger stores at 5961 N State Road 135, Greenwood; 2200 Independence Dr., Greenwood; 970 N. Morton St., Franklin; 3100 Meridian Parke Dr., Greenwood; 8850 S Emerson Ave, Indianapolis.

Registration: Call your local pharmacy or go online to Call 211 or any Johnson County Public Library for help registering.