COVID-19 hospitalizations, deaths continue

Mike Wolanin | The Republic A bright red sign points to the emergency entrance to Columbus Regional Hospital in Columbus, Ind., pictured, Tuesday, March 31, 2020.

Nearly three years since Bartholomew County’s first confirmed COVID-19 case, data shows that the virus is still hospitalizing and killing local residents.

Updated figures from the Indiana Department of Health show that two Jackson County residents and one Bartholomew County resident have died from the virus so far this year.

COVID-19 has killed five people in Bartholomew County and the surrounding area since Dec. 20, state records show.

At the same time, COVID-19 hospitalizations at Columbus Regional Hospital have held steady at 15 for much of the previous week, hospital records show.

As of Thursday morning, 14 people were hospitalized at CRH with COVID-19, including one person who was listed in critical condition, the hospital said.

Statewide, a total of 185 Hoosiers died from the virus during the first 22 days of the year, state records show. Over the course of the pandemic, 24,684 Indiana residents have died from COVID-19, including 262 Bartholomew County residents and 139 Jackson County residents.

Bartholomew, Jackson, Jennings and Decatur counties were four of the 13 counties in Indiana that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention listed in its yellow or “medium” community level as of Thursday. Three counties were listed in the CDC’s orange or “high” category, while the rest of the state was in the green or “low” category.

The update from local and state officials comes as the U.S. is poised to make COVID-19 vaccinations more like a yearly flu shot, a major shift in strategy despite a long list of questions about how to best protect against a still rapidly mutating virus, The Associated Press reported.

The Food and Drug Administration asked its scientific advisers Thursday to help lay the groundwork for switching to once-a-year boosters for most Americans — and how and when to periodically update the shots’ recipe, according to wire reports.

The advisory panel mostly agreed with the FDA’s approach.

COVID-19 vaccines have saved millions of lives and booster doses continue to help the most vulnerable even as more contagious variants have popped up, according to wire reports. But protection does wane and the shots don’t fend off milder infections for long.

And people are tired of getting vaccinated, according to the AP. While more than 80% of the U.S. population has had at least one COVID-19 shot, only 16% of those eligible for the latest boosters — so-called bivalent doses updated to better match more recent virus strains — have gotten one.

Locally, 70% of Bartholomew County residents have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 shot, and 14.5% of people ages 5 and up in the county have received a bivalent booster, according to the CDC.

Looking ahead, the FDA said most Americans should do fine if they get a once-a-year booster targeted to the newest variants in the fall, according to wire reports. The agency asked if some people might need two doses — adults with weakened immune systems and very young children who’ve never been previously vaccinated. That’s similar to how youngsters get their first-ever flu vaccination.

But more data is needed to show exactly who might need two yearly doses — such as a careful count of who still gets hospitalized with COVID-19 despite being up-to-date with today’s vaccinations.