Holcomb, Rokita spar over comments about COVID-19 numbers

Gov. Eric Holcomb is shown at a Wednesday news conference on COVID-19 in Indiana. Photo by Indiana Business Journal

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb slammed Attorney General Todd Rokita for comments he made in an interview this month suggesting the state is inflating its COVID-19 numbers.

“I will say that I was stunned and somewhat blindsided by the Attorney General when he said he didn’t trust any information because that to me, hit home, and it’s quite serious when you accuse or insinuate anyone of inflating numbers. In my book, that’s called fraud” Holcomb said during a COVID-19 press briefing on Wednesday with state health officials.

In an interview with WSBT-TV Channel 22 in South Bend on Dec. 17, Rokita told reporter Todd Connor, “I don’t believe any numbers anymore, and, I’m sorry about that, but this has been politicized.”

Connor then asked if Rokita was referring to the numbers reported by Indiana health officials, to which Rokita continued his comments saying, “This has been politicized since Day 1.”

Holcomb said if Rokita, a fellow Republican, has any evidence behind his claims, that he should take the concern up with the state inspector general. The governor said the state health department’s numbers are accurate and that the state acknowledges when there are any errors to correct.

Rokita doubled down, but also attempted to backtrack on his comments in a series of tweets on Tuesday. He wrote he stands by “the concerns of a significant number of Hoosiers and Americans about the politicization of COVID reporting.” He also noted that he’s heard concerns about non-COVID illnesses being reported as COVID deaths.

But Rokita went on to write in the thread that the South Bend reporter “interrupted my response to his earlier question mid-comment and interjected the state health department as the culprit. I continued by finishing my answer to the original question.”

Rokita told IBJ in a written statement on Wednesday that he thinks the issue is not about fraud, and thus is not for the inspector general to address. He did not directly address Holcomb’s comments, and a spokesperson instead referred to the Twitter thread from Tuesday.

“A lack of global standardization of the data and non-uniform use of criteria is an industry-wide management issue, not an Inspector General issue,” Rokita said in the statement. “This isn’t about fraud at this point, it’s about inaccurate numbers and political agendas causing doubt.”

Holcomb said during the press conference that if Rokita did not mean to question the state’s data, he should clear that up by explicitly saying that he believes the numbers.

“Anyone that is spreading misinformation or disinformation regarding our reporting, to me, is just, I believe, just attempting to fan the flames of confusion,” Holcomb said. “That’s exactly what we don’t need at this time if someone has a question they need to raise that question with us.”

For the complete story, see Friday’s Republic.