Indiana Senate backs narrow bill to end COVID-19 public emergency

Respiratory therapist Frans Oudenaar, left, and registered nurse Bryan Hofilena cover a body of a COVID-19 patient with a sheet at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Los Angeles, Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021. Many hospitals across the country are struggling to cope with burnout among doctors, nurses and other workers. Already buffeted by a crush of patients from the ongoing surge of the coronavirus's delta variant, they're now bracing for the fallout of another highly transmissible mutation. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Indiana Senate has approved a bill taking administrative steps that Gov. Eric Holcomb has said are needed in order for him to end the statewide COVID-19 public health emergency.

Senators voted 34-11 in favor of the bill Thursday. The Republican-dominated Senate’s proposal is limited to those administrative actions, while House Republicans have pushed through a bill that would also severely limit workplace COVID-19 vaccination requirements.

The actions sought by Holcomb would allow the state to keep receiving about $40 million a month in enhanced federal funding for Medicaid and for about 200,000 households to continue receiving an additional $95 a month in federal food assistance. The bill would also let the state health commissioner continuing issuing a standing doctor’s order for the administration of COVID-19 vaccinations to children ages 5 to 11.

Health experts object to the move to end the public health emergency that Holcomb first declared in March 2020. They point to the state’s ongoing high levels of COVID-19 illnesses and hospitalizations.

State health department tracking shows that Indiana’s hospitals were treating about 3,000 COVID-19 patients as of Wednesday — seven times higher than last summer.

The state has averaged more than 50 COVID-19 deaths a day since mid-December, and the pandemic death total has topped 21,000 people.