Dr. Richard Feldman: Can Indiana’s COVID data be trusted? Most definitely



Attorney General Todd Rokita casts doubt on the validity of any state COVID data insinuating that the reporting has been politicized by government officials, hospitals and the “left-wing” media by inflating the numbers.

Of note, Indiana’s current data trends are almost identical to most states. Rokita is really the one politicizing COVID, joining with other conservative-minded COVID-pandemic minimizers.

Rokita does give some good advice: “I think the best advice is don’t listen to politicians… Listen to your doctor.” Correct, don’t listen to Rokita because, unlike physicians, his COVID rhetoric isn’t based on concern for Hoosiers’ health but on garnering attention and support for his higher political aspirations.

Questioning the integrity of Gov. Eric Holcomb and the Indiana Department of Health is an enormous insult. His statements provoked Holcomb from his normally positive non-confrontational demeanor into a rare but justified reprimand of a fellow office holder and a Republican at that.

Rokita’s disinformation goes further. He questions that the vast majority of those hospitalized for COVID are unvaccinated. He states hospitals are overwhelmed with COVID because health-care professionals are unwilling to come to work because of vaccine mandates. Really? More than 90% of COVID hospitalizations and deaths are accounted for by unvaccinated patients. The shortage of health-care workers is due to sickness with COVID, exhaustion, frustration and demoralization. Many forsake the hospital setting for less stressful and safer opportunities. Only a small fraction of workers leave their jobs because of vaccine mandates (IU Health, 0.3% and all workers nationally, 5%).

As a former state health commissioner, I can assure that our COVID numbers are accurate and there is no conspiracy to alter them. I know how data is collected, and any attempt to report data dishonestly is never considered — even when the data may not be advantageous to a governor’s administration.

Here’s Indiana’s pathetic situation: Daily COVID cases are exponentially intensifying and at an all-time high (15,000 per day). Hospitalizations are the highest since last winter (3,200). Our testing positivity rates are nearing all-time highs (24%). IU health asked the Indiana National Guard and the U.S. Navy health-care teams for assistance. Meanwhile, Indiana’s immunization rate is 8th lowest in the nation (52%). Indiana is judged by WalletHub as the most COVID unsafe state in the country.

Yet, Rokita grandstands about widespread inflation of COVID numbers through lack of data transparency and holds that many are dying “with” COVID rather than “of” COVID. His examples are purely anecdotal. True, the distinction can be tricky at times. Respiratory viral infections like influenza and COVID can acutely exacerbate chronic preexisting conditions like renal failure, heart and lung disease, and diabetes. The instigating event many times is the viral infection even though the patient may die of their chronic disease. Did the COPD patient with COVID die of respiratory failure from the COPD or COVID? Typically, attributing the death to the chronic disease underestimates the role of the virus. The overwhelming number of COVID cases and the associated soaring hospitalizations and deaths during the pandemic makes the real situation obvious. COVID has killed millions of people.

Rokita’s accusations are absurd. As Huntington County Health Officer Matthew Pflieger said, “I would not know how to make these numbers up. If he’s saying there is a conspiracy going on, then … millions of health-care workers are in on the conspiracy.”

Rokita should stay out of public health issues. His words are harmful, irresponsible and unconscionable.

Dr. Richard Feldman is an Indianapolis family physician and the former state health commissioner.