INDIANAPOLIS — For the first time in more than a year, Indiana had no new COVID-19 deaths reported on Sunday.
The last time that happened was March 20, 2020, within the very first few days of the pandemic when only two deaths had been confirmed at that time.
It’s the latest positive sign for the state as deaths have dwindled since the start of 2021 and vaccine distribution has slashed the most serious human cost of the virus.
Sunday’s update from the Indiana State Department of Health came with more than 900 new virus cases and a slightly higher positivity rate — indicators that have been rising modestly from all-time lows over the last two weeks — but it was the first time in more than a year that no new deaths were reported.
Death counts are usually the least over the weekends as reporting lags a bit over Saturday and Sunday, but even despite drops outside of the Monday through Friday workweek, the state has never hit zero deaths.
To show that it wasn’t a fluke, Indiana followed up Sunday’s zero deaths with just one new death reported on Monday. The state had just one death reported also on March 22 and March 31.
Deaths have fallen off significantly in Indiana after a huge spike to close out the end of 2020.
After averaging 32 and 30 deaths per day in April and May 2020, respectively, COVID-19 activity fell off substantially during summer of last year. Daily averages for June, July, August and September were 16, 10, 10 and 11 deaths per day, respectively.
But after a calm summer and early fall, the state entered a surge that lasted the final three months of 2020.
Average daily deaths doubled to 22 in October, doubled again to 45 per day in November and then nearly doubled again to 79 per day in December.
Those numbers, however, also capture only part of the total cost, as those were the averages based on totals reported at the time. In February, the state completed a year-end audit of deaths that uncovered more than 1,500 more that went unreported to the COVID-19 dashboard at the time, many of which occurred during those final three months and January 2021, meaning the death counts were actually even higher during that time.
The state went through stretches of having more than 100 reported deaths daily.
Then, vaccines started going out.
The first vaccines were distributed in mid-December 2020 before Hoosiers 80 and older first becoming eligible in January, the state has seen a drop off in deaths that have coincided with widening availability and acceptance of vaccines.
When vaccine distribution started, after inoculating health care workers and first responders, Indiana adopted an age-based approach, with Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb summarizing the goal to “save the most lives while reducing hospitalizations.”
That’s panned out in the first three months of 2021.
Average daily deaths dropped from 79 per day in December to 54 per day in January, then to 37 per day in February and then 16 per day in March. In the first few days of April, the state is averaging just seven deaths per day from COVID-19 so far, a 91% reduction from the end of 2020.
Hospitalizations dropped from 2,655 patients across the state on Jan. 1, hitting an all-time low of 548 patients on March 21 — a 78% reduction — before ticking up slightly in recent days.
To date, 92.5% of deaths have come among Hoosiers 60 years and older and vaccine uptake has been strongest among those age groups. More than 70% of those 70 and older have taken the vaccine, while those in their 60s are nearing 70% coverage, too.
All Hoosiers 16 and older are now eligible for vaccines and can sign up at ourshot.in.gov or by calling 211.
Although younger people have had less risk of death from COVID-19, state officials encourage everyone to get a vaccine as a way to prevent new variant strains from emerging as well as to provide additional layers of protection to the elderly, who may have a weak immune response even after getting vaccinated, as well as children who can’t get immunized yet.