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Indiana coronavirus updates for Wednesday, March 3, 2021

The latest updates on the coronavirus pandemic from Wednesday, March 3.

INDIANAPOLIS — Wednesday'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.

RELATED: Here's everything we know about the COVID-19 vaccine

Thousands of calls to 211 Wednesday

Thousands of Hoosiers called for information about the coronavirus vaccine in the hours after Gov. Eric Holcomb announced the eligibility was lowering.

The governor announced Wednesday that anyone age 50 or older would be able to get the vaccine. According to Indiana FSSA Secretary Jennifer Sullivan, more than 25,000 calls came in to the state's information line during a 12-hour window Wednesday.

Hoosiers can call 211 for information about the vaccine or to schedule an appointment to get vaccinated.

Holcomb, state health leaders give update

Gov. Eric Holcomb and state health leaders are giving an update on the state's response to the pandemic.

Holcomb announced the coronavirus vaccine is now open to Hoosiers 50 and older. Because he is now eligible, the governor announced he'll get his vaccine Friday.

Follow these steps to register online:

  • Go to vaccine.coronavirus.in.gov.
  • Select which group you belong to in order to qualify for the vaccine (health care worker, first responder, people 50 and older).
  • If you are registering by age, you must enter your date of birth for confirmation.
  • Enter your zip code, and click "Search."
  • Select a vaccine clinic available in your area.
  • Select the blue link that says "Schedule an Appointment" for your desired location.
  • Find a date with availability, and click "Select This Time."
  • Fill out the patient's information (name, date of birth, sex, contact information), and click "Submit Patient Information."

Hoosiers age 50-59 are 30 times more likely to die of COVID-19 than those 20-29. They are also four times more likely to be hospitalized with the illness than those in the 20-29 age group.

Holcomb discussed the federal pharmacy program that will help get teachers vaccinated. He said he does not yet have specific answers on how many doses the state will receive that will go to pharmacies that will vaccinate teachers who are not yet age-eligible to go to state-sponsored clinics.

Those vaccines will be available at Kroger, Meijer and Walmart pharmacies. Teachers will need to register directly through those pharmacies and will not be able to schedule an appointment through the state health department's website or by calling 211. The state will still keep track of those vaccines on its vaccine dashboard.

Since last week, more than 110,000 people have received the first dose of the vaccine. Indiana State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box said the state is making steady improvements in getting the vaccine to more people.

Box said there are still approximately 300 testing sites around the state, despite the declining number of cases. Testing sites will remain important given the arise of new variants of the virus.

The state has been told not to expect additional doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine over the next three weeks, meaning the state will depend on the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine after the initial shipment of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

RELATED: The just-approved Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine is coming to Indiana

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Lindsay Weaver said the state expects to vaccinate about 4,200 people per day at the three drive-thru mass vaccination sites.

RELATED: Indianapolis Motor Speedway hosting first of 3 drive-thru vaccination clinics

Butler planning on full on-campus experience

Butler University is planning for a full on-campus experience for the Fall 2021 semester. The move will be done while keeping health and safety a top priority.

The changes to increased face-to-face instruction and classroom capabilities could begin this summer.

President James Danko made the announcement in a video message you can see here:

ISDH daily update

The Indiana State Department of Health is reporting 786 more positive cases of COVID-19 and nine additional deaths Wednesday. The state has recorded a total of 663,511 positive cases and 12,200 confirmed deaths since the start of the pandemic.

The seven-day positivity rate between Feb. 18 and Feb. 24 was 3.5 percent for all tests and 9.6 percent for unique individuals.

Hospitalizations for COVID-19 patients in the state dropped to 731 Tuesday — the lowest number since Sept. 12, 2020.

County metrics are also improving, with every Indiana county in either blue or yellow — the two lowest levels.

Ball State to hold in-person commencement

Ball State University announced Wednesday it would return to in-person commencement ceremonies in May.

The school will hold a series of smaller, outdoor ceremonies — organized by college — for all class of 2020 graduates and Spring 2021 graduates.

All ceremonies will be held at the stadium — rain or shine. All graduates who wish to participate must register online by March 29.

Ball State President Geoffrey Mearns said the decision to resume in-person ceremonies aligns with his decision to return to a nearly normal, on-campus academic schedule in August.

To see the schedule of commencement ceremonies, click here.

Latest US, world numbers

There have been more than 28.71 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States as of 3:30 a.m. ET Wednesday, according to Johns Hopkins University. There have been more than 516,000 deaths in the U.S. 

Worldwide, there have been more than 114.75 million confirmed cases with more than 2.54 million deaths and 64.9 million recoveries.

RELATED: See where confirmed Indiana coronavirus cases are with this interactive map

RELATED: VERIFY: Are Indiana’s new COVID-19 case numbers inflated with multiple positive tests for the same person?

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.

President Biden directs states to prioritize vaccinating teachers

President Joe Biden is directing states to prioritize vaccinating all teachers for COVID-19 during the month of March, and announced that the federal government will help in the effort through its partnership with retail pharmacies.

Biden said his goal is for every pre-kindergarten through 12th grade educator, school staff member and childcare worker to receive at least one shot by the end of March.

To achieve this, Biden announced that qualifying individuals will be able to sign up this month to be vaccinated at a pharmacy near them.

Biden said that while schools are safe to reopen even before staff members have been vaccinated, "time and again, we've heard from educators and parents that have anxieties about that," so to "accelerate" the safe reopening, teachers should be prioritized.

Marion County leaders hosting webinar Wednesday evening to dispel COVID-19 myths

The City of Indianapolis and Marion County Public Health Department are teaming up to launch the COVID Community Ambassador program to encourage people to dispel myths and challenge stigmas. 

Marion County residents are encouraged to sign up to receive email updates through an online portal. Participants will receive regular email updates on new vaccine sites, qualification changes and infographics to be shared on social media.

"Communication from trusted leaders at all levels is critical to ensuring our residents of all backgrounds feel safe and confident in receiving a potentially life-saving vaccine," Hogsett said in a press release. "This effort allows the power of connections to be at the forefront of disseminating critical vaccine information. Neighbor to neighbor, we can dispel myths and remove barriers to get our city on a healthier path."

The City of Indianapolis and Marion County Public Health Department are hosting two webinars to kick off the community ambassador program: 

  • Wednesday, March 3 at 6 p.m. ET in English
  • Thursday, March 4 at 6 p.m. ET in Spanish

To become a community ambassador, go to indy.gov/covid.

Texas planning to lift statewide mask mandate, allow businesses to operate at 100% capacity next week

Texas is lifting its statewide mask mandate and allowing businesses to operate at 100 percent capacity beginning Wednesday, March 10.

Gov. Greg Abbott announced the changes at a press conference and said conditions had improved in the fight against COVID-19 to the point where he felt businesses could open to full capacity. Some businesses were previously only allowed to open to 75 percent capacity.

He also said Tuesday, March 2 had the lowest positivity rate in Texas for COVID-19 cases in four months. Cases had been dropping in recent weeks since a spike after the winter holidays.

Abbott said that while he is removing the statewide mask mandate, he encouraged businesses to create their own policies to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Enough COVID vaccine for every US adult by end of May, Biden says

President Joe Biden said Tuesday that the U.S. expects to take delivery of enough coronavirus vaccines for all adult Americans by the end of May, two months earlier than anticipated, as his administration announced that drugmaker Merck & Co. will help produce rival Johnson & Johnson’s newly approved shot.

The announcement comes as the White House looks to speed the production of the single-dose J&J vaccine and accelerate the nation’s plans to reach “herd immunity” in the U.S. and begin restoring normalcy after the pandemic. Biden noted that vaccine supply was only one bottleneck toward that goal, and that the new challenge will be injecting doses into arms as swiftly as possible.

To that end, the Biden administration told governors Tuesday to prepare for their supplies of vaccine to continue to climb over the coming weeks. Additional doses are also heading toward a federally backed program to administer doses in more accessible retail pharmacies.