On Sunday, 3,382 Hoosiers were hospitalized with COVID-19. That’s the highest number since December 2020 and more than the populations of Corydon, Sheridan, Brownstown, New Palestine and hundreds of other Hoosier locales.

Beyond putting a massive strain on the health care system, the most recent hospitalization surge illustrates two facts: COVID isn’t going away, and the response to the virus in Indiana has been wholly inadequate.

Omicron has proved to be more readily transmittable than other variants, passing Delta as a cause of hospitalizations in Indiana last month. And it’s clear that it won’t be the last variant to fill our hospitals and our morgues. Over 19,000 Hoosiers have died — more than the populations of Logansport, New Castle, Huntington, Vincennes and Frankfort. Yet millions of Hoosiers, rather than becoming resistant to the virus, remain resistant to vaccination. Indiana has the ninth-lowest vaccination rate in the United States, 52.4% among its general population. Most notably, we’re dead last among our contiguous states, trailing Illinois (64.8%), Michigan (57.3%), Ohio (55.8%) and Kentucky (54.7%).

There’s a direct, undeniable link between vaccination status and hospitalizations. WTHR Channel 13 in Indianapolis asked four hospital organizations — Ascension St. Vincent, Community Health Network, Eskenazi and Indiana University Arnett Hospital in Lafayette — what percentage of COVID patients were unvaccinated. The answers ranged from 81% to 96%.

Why do so many Hoosiers refuse to get inoculated when the full weight of educated health care advice, science and statistics supports the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine? Politics.

Here’s a prime example: Instead of focusing on legislation that would support public health directives to battle the coronavirus, some lawmakers are trying to hamstring employers who want to create a safe workplace by minimizing spread of the virus.

House Bill 1001 would require private employers who mandate the vaccine to pay the full unemployment benefits of any workers who refuse and are denied an exemption.

Rather than pandering to its anti-vaccine political base, the Republican super-majority at the Statehouse should join forces with Gov. Eric Holcomb and the state’s health department to overhaul Indiana’s approach to fighting the virus.

All options, including vaccine and mask mandates and limitations on indoor gatherings, should be considered COVID-19 has shown that it isn’t going away on its own. If Indiana doesn’t take a bold, calculated approach to fighting it, a year from now our state’s death toll could be close to 40,000, comparable to Hoosier cities as large as New Albany, Richmond, Valparaiso and Goshen.
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