As concerns of COVID-19 continue, Gov. Eric Holcomb announced most of the state will move into Stage 4 of Indiana’s reopening plan today, two days ahead of schedule.
In a virtual press briefing Wednesday, Holcomb and Dr. Kristina Box, commissioner of the state health department, addressed a number of uncertainties that remain with the move to the next stage of the Indiana Back on Track plan. They said they are relying on facts and data, not opinion, to determine when to move through the five-stage reopening plan.
“We are very careful to express facts and to share what is, not our editorial, not our opinion. This is what we are seeing,” Holcomb said about how he and other state leaders make decisions regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.
The state is monitoring several factors, like the number of cases and intensive care unit capacity in hospitals, when moving Indiana through the reopening plan.
Six new COVID-19 cases were reported in Jackson County by the Indiana State Department of Health on Thursday.
That brings the total number of positive coronavirus cases in the county to 413 through midnight Wednesday. The daily average number of new COVID-19 cases reported in the past 21 days is 3.5. The county also has had two deaths, one April 22 and the second May 30. The state also reported 2,716 county residents have been tested.
The state reported 499 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, bringing the state total to 38,748 positive cases. There were 25 additional deaths, resulting in 2,198 total Hoosier deaths, not including the 182 believed to have died from the virus. There were 7,392 new tests given, totaling 327,342 for the state.
Stage 4 will go into effect today and last until July 3, allowing social gatherings of up to 250 people, among other changes. Retail stores and malls will be able to open at full capacity.
Venues, including bars, nightclubs, movie theaters, museums and other cultural, entertainment and tourism sites, may open at 50% capacity. Restaurant dining rooms can open at 75% capacity.
Playgrounds also may reopen, and community youth and adult recreational games, leagues and tournaments may resume.
But these changes will arrive with a number of uncertainties in play.
One of these uncertainties lies within testing. Box announced Wednesday, for example, that the Indiana State Department of Health will partner with Eli Lilly and the Indiana Hospital Association to launch a lab testing network that will increase the state’s daily testing capacity.
The state currently operates testing sites around the state through OptumServe. But Box said OptumServe locations in 11 counties — Cass, Dubois, Fountain, Jasper, Knox, LaGrange, Lawrence, Park, Perry, Steuben and Posey — will soon be converted into mobile testing sites to help with testing staff at nursing homes.
These sites were not meeting their capacity when serving the general public, Box said, and directing their resources to nursing homes will ensure the state can make the most of their testing partnership.
Holcomb said he is happy with OptumServe, and he is recommending them to other governors.
“We will continue to work with Optum, and we will continue to use them to test and get the results,” Holcomb said. “It’s helping us to decide very important decisions that need to be made that are guiding our state forward.”
Stage 4 also arrives as the state is monitoring increases in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in northeast Indiana, specifically Elkhart and LaGrange counties. Box noted there is a lot of capacity when it comes to ICU beds and ventilators, indicating the counties should be prepared for any further spikes in cases.
These counties, as well as those already behind in the reopening plan — Marion, Lake and Cass — can choose to not enter Stage 4, Holcomb said.
Additionally, with protests continuing in the state in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd, a black Minneapolis man who died in police custody, Box encouraged demonstrators to continue getting tested, as they may be infected at any time.
Box said she was pleased that around 400 protestors visited a free state testing site in downtown Indianapolis on Saturday, for example. But concerns remain with social distancing and other precautions.
“Even though they might not have been social distancing,” Box said about the protestors she saw in Indianapolis on Saturday, “they were oftentimes wearing masks and hopefully washing and alcoholing [sic] their hands.”
While Box and Holcomb continued to urge protestors — and all Hoosiers — to wear masks in public as the state reopens, the practice is not required by the state. Box instead encouraged retailers and businesses to mandate customers wear masks if they feel it is necessary. She clarified the state has not required masks because they could cause challenges for the deaf and individuals who struggle with claustrophobia.
Holcomb and Box added some simply can’t be convinced to wear face coverings, no matter how the state recommends or markets the practice.
“The word is getting out, but it will never be enough,” Holcomb said.
Hope Shrum is a reporter for The StatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students. The post ‘State leaders address COVID-19 uncertainties as most of Indiana moves into Stage 4’ appeared first on TheStatehouseFile.com.