Republican governor, AG in Indiana feuding over COVID-19

Indiana governor accuses AG of fanning the flames of confusion of COVID-19 case numbers.
A.G. Todd Rokita

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb doubled down on the drive to get everyone in the state vaccinated and decried what he called “misinformation,” saying he was blindsided by Attorney General Todd Rokita claim earlier this month no longer trusts the numbers on COVID-19.

“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,” Holcomb said at a press conference Wednesday. “And it’s quite serious when you accuse or insinuate anyone of inflating numbers. In my book that’s called fraud. And if there is a shred of evidence, he or others need to take that to the inspector general of the state of Indiana.”

In an interview with South Bend television station WSBT 22 on Dec. 17, Rokita said he no longer trusted any numbers related to COVID-19.

“First of all, I don’t believe any numbers anymore,” he said. “This has been politicized since day one. I think we have to focus on whether or not people are dying anymore. And the fact is, the omicron variant is a much milder variant.”

Rokita also said he thought the reason hospitals were filling up with patients is because nurses and other “won’t come to work because of the mandates that have been put on them.”

“The fact of the matter is the complaints I get are, ‘I’m quitting, I’m switching careers because I know this vaccine is not good for me personally and I know that it’s not stopping anything, and therefore I’m not doing it,’” he told WSBT.

Holcomb said the state has worked with hospitals and schools to get information.

“It’s been constant collaboration to arrive at accurate information by the end of the day, and so misinformation or disinformation is, obviously by definition, counterproductive to getting through this safely,” he said.

Holcomb also said he believes anyone “that is spreading misinformation or disinformation” about the state’s reported COVID-19 numbers is “just attempting to fan the flames of confusion.”

“If someone has a question, they need to raise the questions with us, and we will answer it,” he said. “We do this every day, in all 92 counties. But it is, to use Dr. Box’s word, I think, is demoralizing, to accuse someone of wrongdoing…and I understand, people in general, if they do not understand something, maybe they’re more skeptical about it. But if you don’t understand it, ask a question, and we will gladly answer it.”

In response to Holcomb’s comments, Rokita posted a statement to Twitter on Wednesday evening, saying: “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… This isn’t about fraud at this point, it’s about inaccurate numbers and political agendas causing doubt.”

In his press conference opening statement, Holcomb referred to data and complained about what he called “misinformation.”

“One of the most challenging things or difficult things is dealing with misinformation or disinformation about the virus itself, COVID-19 specifically, and how we make decisions here at the state,” he said. “And so I do want to acknowledge just the important role that data plays in our daily lives – not just ours, I’m not talking about out, but ours as a state, and the number of citizens, hospitals, schools that rely on that data integrity to make wise decisions and all that goes into that.”

In response to a question about the data in the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, which shows 1496 emergency room visits in the state reported after vaccination and 146 deaths, Holcomb said he didn’t agree the vaccine has a high risk associated with it and deferred to Indiana’s chief medical officer, Dr. Lindsay Weaver, who said the state Department of Health had reviewed the VAERS data for Indiana and did not see any issues.

Holcomb said people in the state “should have a high level of confidence that the data that the state of Indiana puts out is accurate.”

As of this month, 54% of eligible people in the state have been vaccinated. Of those age 60 and older, about 80% have been vaccinated.

As in other states, hospitalization rates in Indiana have risen as the vaccination rates have increased, and the state is now seeing the highest number of hospitalizations it’s seen in the last five years, with COVID-19 patients amounting to about one quarter of those hospitalized at the 16 IU Health hospitals.

The state’s online dashboard shows deaths in the state from COVID-19 peaked a year ago, in December 2020, with 115 deaths recorded Dec. 17, 2020. The number of deaths dropped in the summer but has begun to rise again with 58 deaths reported this month Dec. 14.