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(INDIANAPOLIS) – As Indiana approaches the end of a nearly two-year emergency declaration, Governor Holcomb says the state has met the challenge of the pandemic, but he warns COVID-19 isn’t gone or close to gone.

Indiana has averaged 27 COVID deaths a day since the first one last March. The state is in the middle of another surge, with cases and hospitalizations the highest since September. And Indiana’s vaccination rate is the 11th-lowest in the U.S. In an interview with WIBC, Holcomb said every state is facing the same problem: no matter how many people are vaccinated, the virus finds and “feasts on” those who aren’t.

Holcomb’s mantra has been to “balance lives and livelihoods,” and boasts the state has successfully provided local governments with the resources and support to address the pandemic, whether by assisting with testing, contact tracing, or vaccinations. He points to Indiana schools as a prime example. After schools closed last year, the Indiana Departments of Health and Education worked with schools on contact tracing protocols he says have allowed schools to minimize quarantines and closures.

And Holcomb says Indiana’s economy has thrived, with tax collections outstripping projections while unemployment falls.

Holcomb has sought a middle road on vaccine mandates, arguing neither state nor federal government should require vaccinations, while supporting businesses who do so on their own. He’s signaled opposition to a House Republican bill scheduled for a hearing next week which would effectively gut any private requirements.

Short of mandates, Holcomb says he’d embrace anything that works, but says it’s been hard to find a program that moves the needle. The governor scoffed at prize drawings in Ohio for people who got vaccinated, and questions whether that sweepstakes increased vaccination. He says he’s not opposed to resuming a vaccination ad campaign, but says the last one didn’t appear to make much difference. The best motivator, Holcomb says, has been the worst one: deaths in one’s own circle, and spikes in cases from new outbreaks and new variants.

Holcomb declined, as he has in the past, to single out an aspect of the administration’s response which could have been handled better. But he says one challenge has been the anxiety created by new variants, and by shifting recommendations from health experts as scientists learn more about the virus. He says that anxiety has been magnified by social media. But he says his landslide reelection last year represents Hoosiers’ endorsement of how the administration has handled the pandemic.