INDIANAPOLIS — Thursday's latest updates on the coronavirus pandemic, including the latest news on COVID-19 vaccinations and testing in Indiana. Registrations for the vaccine are now open for select groups through Indiana State Department of Health. This story will be updated over the course of the day with more news on the COVID-19 pandemic.
MCPHD 'optimistic' about having fans
The Indianapolis 500 is just 65 days away and, unlike last year, it's looking like “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” will have spectators.
Organizers are hopeful that for the 105th running of the Indianapolis 500 they'll be able to throw it into reverse and enjoy the race like they have every year up until the pandemic hit in 2020, emptying the stands of fans.
"We are hoping to be optimistic. I am a fan of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway," said Marion County Public Health Director Dr. Virginia Caine.
Caine plays a key role in any decision to open the track to fans.
"If we are looking at our numbers and how they are trending, I believe we will have fans at the Indy 500," she explained.
Speedway owner Roger Penske said he wants to see 250,000 fans at this year's race.
Although she's optimistic at this point, Caine said it may be difficult for the health department to say what the capacity will be.
Senate votes to extend PPP small business loan program
The Senate passed a bill 92-7 on Thursday to extend the deadline for business owners to apply for forgivable loans through the Paycheck Protection Program, giving applicants two more months to apply for federal aid.
The bill had already passed the House, so it now goes to President Joe Biden’s desk to be signed into law. Congress started the loan program last year to help businesses survive the COVID-19 pandemic.
The deadline for applications would be extended to May 31 under the bill, and the federal government would have until June 30 to process the applications.
The Small Business Administration reports that it has approved nearly 7.9 million loans totaling about $704 billion.
Biden doubles goal of COVID vaccines to 200 million doses
Biden opened his first formal news conference by doubling his original goal on COVID-19 vaccines by pledging that the nation will administer 200 million doses by the end of his first 100 days in office. The administration had met Biden’s initial goal of 100 million doses earlier this month — before even his 60th day in office — as the president pushes to defeat a pandemic that has killed more than 545,000 Americans and devastated the nation’s economy.
While seemingly ambitious, Biden’s vaccine goal amounts to a continuation of the existing pace of vaccinations through the end of next month. The U.S. is now averaging about 2.5 million doses per day and an even greater rate is possible. Over the next month, two of the bottlenecks to getting Americans vaccinated are set to ease as the U.S. supply of vaccines is on track to increase and states lift eligibility requirements to get shots.
State reports 977 new cases, 8 deaths
The Indiana State Department of Health reported 977 new COVID-19 cases Thursday, bringing the state's total to 680,998 cases since last March.
With eight additional deaths recorded between Dec. 6, 2020 and Wednesday, Indiana has now lost 12,576 people to the virus. Another 406 probable deaths have been reported in patients who died with no positive test on record.
More than 1 million Hoosiers now fully vaccinated
A total of 2,548,924 doses have been administered in Indiana since late December. This includes 1,530,403 first doses and 1,018,521 individuals who have received a second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or the single Johnson & Johnson vaccine and are fully vaccinated as a result.
To schedule a vaccine, visit https://ourshot.in.gov or call 211 if you do not have access to a computer or require assistance.
Marion County leaders provide update on COVID-19 response
Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett and Marion County Public Health Department Director Dr. Virginia Caine are providing an update Thursday morning on the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I want to thank Gov. [Eric] Holcomb and the State Health Department for getting us to that major milestone," Hogsett said on Hoosiers 16 years old and older being eligible to be vaccinated against COVID-19 beginning Wednesday, March 31.
Hogsett announced Marion County will not repeal the city's mask mandate or current business restrictions on April 6. These will stay in place until the county's public health order is lifted.
On Tuesday, Holcomb said the statewide mask mandate will become an advisory on April 6, but face coverings will remain mandatory in all state buildings and facilities and in all vaccination and COVID-19 testing sites until further notice. He also said decisions about venue capacity and social gatherings will be made by local officials starting April 6.
Mobile vaccine clinics
The Indiana State Department of Health is partnering with IU Health to host a mobile vaccine clinic at a church on the east side of Indianapolis on Friday, March 26 and Saturday, March 27.
Vaccinations will take place at Eastern Star Church's Care Center from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Friday and 8 a.m. to noon on Saturday.
The vaccine clinic will be offering the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Due to high demand, all vaccine slots are already filled for both days.
ISDH will host more mobile vaccine clinics in traditionally underserved communities on yet-to-be-determined dates:
- Light of the World Christian Church, New Era Church, Greater Shepherd Baptist Church, Providence AME Church and Witherspoon Presbyterian Church, in partnership with IU Health
- The Consulate of Mexico in Indianapolis, in partnership with Eli Lilly
- Riverside Park, in partnership with Eli Lilly & Flanner House
Grants for minority communities
Beginning April 1, community-based organizations will submit funding applications for projects that promote the wellness and recovery of the minority communities that have been hit the hardest by the pandemic.
The average grant award is expected to be $25,000, but mini-grants as low as $2,500 will also be available for smaller projects.
Applications are due April 15 and will be awarded April 26.
US jobless claims fall to 684,000, fewest since pandemic started
The number of people seeking unemployment benefits fell sharply last week to 684,000, the fewest since the pandemic erupted a year ago and a sign that the economy is improving.
Thursday’s report from the Labor Department showed that jobless claims fell from 781,000 the week before. It is the first time that weekly applications for jobless aid have fallen below 700,000 since mid-March of last year. Before the pandemic tore through the economy, applications had never topped that level.
Still, a total of 18.9 million people are continuing to collect jobless benefits, up from 18.2 million in the previous week. Roughly one-third of those recipients are in extended federal aid programs, which means they've been unemployed for at least six months.
Latest US, world numbers
There have been more than 30.01 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States as of 3:30 a.m. ET Thursday, according to Johns Hopkins University. There have been more than 545,000 deaths in the U.S.
Worldwide, there have been more than 124.79 million confirmed cases with more than 2.74 million deaths and 70.78 million recoveries.
The real number of people infected by the virus around the world is believed to be much higher — perhaps 10 times higher in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — given testing limitations and the many mild cases that have gone unreported or unrecognized.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness like pneumonia, or death.
Pfizer starts clinical trial for COVID-19 antiviral drug
Drugmaker Pfizer announced they have started Phase I of a U.S. trial of an oral COVID-19 antiviral therapy.
Pfizer's oral clinical candidate, PF-07321332, is a protease inhibitor that the company says has demonstrated anti-viral activity against the virus.
“Tackling the COVID-19 pandemic requires both prevention via vaccine and targeted treatment for those who contract the virus," said Mikael Dolsten, MD, PhD., Chief Scientific Officer and President, Worldwide Research, Development and Medical of Pfizer. "Given the way that SARS-CoV-2 is mutating and the continued global impact of COVID-19, it appears likely that it will be critical to have access to therapeutic options both now and beyond the pandemic."
Other drugmakers, including rivals Merck & Ridgeback Bio, have oral antiviral therapies in mid-stage trials.
AstraZeneca insists COVID vaccine 76% effective after US dispute
AstraZeneca insisted Wednesday that its COVID-19 vaccine is strongly effective even after counting additional illnesses in its disputed U.S. study, the latest in an extraordinary public rift with American officials.
In a late-night press release, AstraZeneca said it had recalculated data from that study and concluded the vaccine is 76% effective in preventing symptomatic COVID-19, instead of the 79% it had claimed earlier in the week.
Just a day earlier, an independent panel that oversees the study had accused AstraZeneca of cherry-picking data to tout the protection offered by its vaccine. The panel, in a harsh letter to the company and to U.S. health leaders, said the company had left out some COVID-19 cases that occurred in the study, a move that could erode trust in the science.
AstraZeneca had been counting on findings from a predominantly U.S. study of 32,000 people to help rebuild confidence in a vaccine that, despite being widely used in Britain, Europe and other countries, has had a troubled rollout.