(undated photo) ISDH Commissioner Dr. Kris Box

As the number of COVID cases surge in Indiana, Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb signed executive orders Wednesday to extend the public health emergency and maintain orders that help Hoosiers impacted by COVID-19 across the state. The executive orders expire on January 31.  The governor first signed the orders on March 6, 2020, as the pandemic started to worsen.

“Given the latest surge that we’re experiencing right now and the impact that it’s having on our communities throughout the state of Indiana, that is no surprise the public health emergency needs to continue,” said Holcomb

More than a year after vaccines were rolled out, new cases of COVID-19 in Indiana have soared to their highest level in months.

The Indiana State Department of Health says the positivity rate is hovering around 14% after falling to 6% in October.

“Our COVID-19 hospital census is at the highest level in an entire year. The number of people hospitalized with COVID has increased more than 700% since late June,” said Indiana State Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Kris Box. “And we’re seeing a larger proportion of cases in people aged 40 and under compared to this time last year.”

Indiana Chief Medical Officer Dr. Lindsay Weaver says the state’s total hospital census is the highest in more than five years and is 1,500 patients higher than last year’s peak.

“Additionally, we have been maintaining a higher census each month since April, compared to the last five years. I see this every time I work in the ER. We are often seeing patients being held in the emergency room for hours and sometimes days until a bed becomes available,” said Weaver.

The ISDH says more than 3.5 million Indiana residents are fully vaccinated against the disease, representing 54% of Hoosiers eligible for the vaccine.  The state says more than 1.3 million have received booster shots.

“More than 80% of the people we are seeing in the hospital with COVID have not been vaccinated,” said Weaver.

Even with the vaccine, Indiana has seen just over 101,000 breakthrough cases since last year. The ISDH says that represents 2.8% of fully vaccinated individuals. Of that number, 2,000 people have been hospitalized.

“Again, these numbers do not mean that vaccinations are not working. And what these numbers mean is that the vaccinations continue to be extremely effective at preventing severe illness or death from COVID,” said Weaver.

While the surge is partially driven by the highly contagious omicron variant, Box says the delta variant remains the predominant variant in Indiana. “But we expect that that will shift quickly,” said Box.

“Omicron is very easily transmitted and infects and multiplies 70 times faster in the major airways of the lungs of an infected individual. People infected with omicron have a lot more virus in their throats waiting to be expelled when they exhale or they cough or sneeze.”

As the state deals with this latest surge, officials are urging Hoosiers to utilize precautions, such as wearing masks, washing hands, and quarantining at home if feeling sick.

“Unfortunately, COVID-19 is determined to keep us on our toes and we once again are facing a very bleak situation with this pandemic,” said Box.

Click here to view the state’s update on COVID-19.