Editorial: Proposed legislation undermines public health

COVID cases are spiking again across Indiana. Hospitalizations have increased at an alarming rate. A stubbornly high number of Hoosiers continue to refuse to be vaccinated. And now, a new variant looms.

Our elected leaders in Indianapolis are poised to act. Just not in the interest of public health.

The Indiana General Assembly plans to convene Thursday to consider a misguided and dangerous bill that would tell employers that they cannot require their employees be vaccinated.

This is scheduled to happen as hospitalizations at Columbus Regional Hospital last week soared to an 11-month high. Bartholomew, Brown and Jennings counties are back in the red category on the state’s COVID map, with test positivity rates last week of 16.5% in Bartholomew and more than 22% in the neighboring counties. The Indiana Department of Health reported last week the seven-day average of COVID deaths in the state was 27 a day.

Statewide, more Hoosiers were hospitalized with COVID last week than at any time since January. IU Health has so many COVID patients in hospitals in its network that they have asked for help from the Indiana National Guard. Hospital officials worry these numbers will only get worse as winter sets in.

Indiana recently recorded a year-high daily number of cases. More than 17,000 Hoosiers have died since the pandemic began.

These are cold, hard facts.

Another cold, hard fact is those who are fully vaccinated against COVID are far less likely to become seriously ill. According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study, of nearly 38,000 people who were hospitalized earlier this year, 92 percent were not fully vaccinated.

Another fact is, our lawmakers know this. So do our medical and business community leaders, who last month begged Statehouse leaders not to pass the law they are now considering.

But some of our lawmakers stubbornly refuse to listen to facts and evidence, and Hoosiers are paying the price in this surge of COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths. It was largely avoidable, had a far greater number of people gotten vaccinated.

We know this legislation, House Bill 1001, was offered in response to federal vaccination mandates. But this bill effectively mandates that employers must employ unvaccinated workers. This defiant legislation helps nothing, except the spread of COVID.

A faction of the Republican supermajority in the Statehouse previously backed off pursuing another hearing on this legislation. Returning to consider it now, under these circumstances, is irresponsible. But it’s also unnecessary.

The proposed vaccine mandates from the Biden administration have been put on hold pending the outcome of court challenges, further eliminating any justification for hasty lawmaking. That situation will not change before the legislature convenes for its regular session next month.

We have tirelessly encouraged vaccination as our best shot to fight COVID head-on. We have repeatedly urged the public to get vaccinated. We have repeatedly urged lawmakers to encourage vaccinations as the best way out of this pandemic.

Responsible lawmakers should do that. They also should allow employers to decide what’s best for the health and safety of their employees and their workplaces.