INDIANAPOLIS — Even as COVID-19 vaccine eligibility opened up to all Hoosiers age 16 and older, Kris Box, the state health commissioner, cautioned that COVID-19 cases continued to spread and Hoosiers still need to wear masks and socially distance.

“Unfortunately, right now the (COVID-19) variants are picking up steam,” Box said. “Our proximity to Michigan, which is one of the stop states for the B.1.1.7 (United Kingdom) variant, is also a concern.”

Michigan has the second-highest reported number of B.1.1.7 cases in the country behind Florida, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Cases in Michigan rose most among the younger populations, Box said, indicating the need for younger residents to get vaccinated to avoid a similar jump in case numbers. Indiana’s case numbers of started to slightly increase again even as 21% of Indiana’s population is fully vaccinated.

“Those (vaccination) numbers are encouraging but we must remain cautious as our positivity rate has ticked up slightly… We have also seen a slight increase in the number of Hoosiers hospitalized,” Box said.

“Cases are increasing in parts of the state which, again, serves as a reminder that we cannot throw caution to the wind and behave as if the pandemic is over.”

Box said researchers identified 221 “breakthrough” cases, or those who contracted the disease after vaccination, and would continue to monitor the number, which represents less than 0.04% of all vaccinations.

Approximately 5.4 million Hoosiers now qualify for the vaccine, though those age 16 and 17 are only permitted to take the Pfizer vaccine with parental permission. Pfizer also released research suggesting its vaccine is safe for use in adolescents as young as 12.

Box explained that the state also removed the residency requirement because of access concerns for college students and out-of-state residents who work in Indiana.

Gov. Eric Holcomb urged students to continue wearing masks, even as his own mask mandate expires on April 6, pushing back against parents who asked him to roll the requirement back.

“This is a mass killer… so there are precautions that we need to take and with eight, nine weeks left in the school year this year – it’s working,” Holcomb said.

Holcomb said Wednesday’s press conference would be his last weekly appearance, though he didn’t rule out resuming the practice in the future.

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