Gov. Eric Holcomb today announced the state was ready to begin loosening restrictions outlined in his stay-at-home order in a five-stage plan designed to open most of the state’s economy by July 4.
The state has been under a stay-at-home order since late March, and Holcomb defined the time between then and May 3 as Stage 1.
Stage 2 will begin May 4 for most counties, with the exceptions of Lake, Cass and Marion, the last of which recently extended its stay-at-home order until May 15. Lake County may enter Stage 2 as soon as May 11. Cass County, site of a COVID-19 outbreak at a meat plant, could enter Stage 2 as soon as May 18.
“What we don’t is to entice people to go back into an unsafe area by being premature about any decisions that we’ve made,” Holcomb said during a virtual press briefing. “But we also don’t want to be reluctant to safely reengage and restart and get back on track.”
On May 4, the state will allow gatherings of up to 25 people, following social distancing guidelines outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which includes staying 6 feet away from others. All five stages require residents to adhere to the social-distancing guidelines.
In Stage 2, people 65 and older and those with preexisting health conditions should remain at home as much as possible, Holcomb said. Retail and commercial businesses will be allowed to open at 50 percent capacity, as will shopping malls, so long as they adhere to social distancing and sanitation standards. However, food courts and other indoor common areas in malls will only open at 25 percent capacity.
Restaurants and bars that serve food will be allowed to open dine-in services at 50 percent capacity beginning May 11. Bars that don’t serve food will remain closed during this stage. Indoor worship services will be allowed starting May 8 in all counties, but Holcomb recommends they take place outdoors, if possible. Starting May 11, hair salons, spas, tattoo parlors and other personal service businesses will be allowed to open by appointment only. Office workers will still be encouraged to work remotely whenever possible.
All buildings, facilities, and grounds for K-12 educational institutions, public or private, will remain closed through June 30, except for the purposes previously allowed in executive orders pertaining to the statewide public health emergency.
Stage 3 is set to begin May 24 for all counties, but Holcomb said changes to the plan’s schedule are still possible and will be driven by “facts on the ground.” During this stage, social gatherings of up to 100 people will be allowed. Vulnerable populations may venture out cautiously, Holcomb said. Retail and commercial businesses, including malls, will open at 75 percent capacity, though mall common areas, food courts and related indoor areas where people congregate will only open at 50 percent capacity. Movie theaters can open for the first time at 50 percent capacity. Playgrounds, tennis and basketball courts and gyms may open with restrictions.
Stage 4 is set to begin June 14 for all counties. Groups of 250 people may congregate during this stage, and large venues can reopen. Offices may resume at full capacity, as will retail and commercial stores. Restaurants and dining room services will open at 75 percent capacity, and bars that don’t serve food can open at 50 percent capacity. Sports leagues will be allowed to begin. Cultural, entertainment and tourism attractions such as zoos and museums may open at 50 percent capacity during this stage.
Holcomb said the goal is to get every county to Stage 5 by July 4. Sporting events can resume at this stage. Working remotely will be optional. Retail businesses, nightclubs, bars and gyms may operate at full capacity. Restrictions on amusement and water parks will be lifted, and Holcomb said the state would determine how to approach the next academic school year at this time.
The plan states residents are recommended to wear face coverings during Stages 2 and 3. But the face coverings are listed as optional for Stages 4 and 5.
In announcing a plan that details guidelines months in advance, Holcomb said the state has allowed municipalities, businesses and residents to “see how far out on the horizon we’re looking and to see how optimistic, quite frankly, we are right now, looking forward.”
Holcomb previously said the state would follow four guiding principles to determine when to loosen restrictions outlined in the order: 14 days of decreased COVID-19 hospital admissions; retained ICU bed and ventilator availability; an ability to test all symptomatic Hoosiers; and an ability to track all contacts of positive COVID-19 cases.
Holcomb said the state has met all of these guiding principles in recent days, and the four guidelines will determine whether the state can adhere to the five-stage schedule.
State officials released data showing COVID-19 hospitalizations across the state have dropped from 167 on April 1 to 106 on April 27.
Currently, the Indiana State Dept. of Health reports a total ICU bed capacity of 2,954. Of those, 43.1 percent are still available; 17.4 percent are in use for COVID-19 patients; and 39.5 percent are in use for non-COVID-19 patients. The department also reports 80.7 percent of its 3,052 ventilators are available.
On April 28, state officials announced a $17.9 million partnership with OptumServe Federal Health Services, a health services innovation company, which they expect will increase Indiana’s COVID-19 testing capacity. When all 50 sites outlined in the partnership are open, as many as 6,600 more Indiana residents can be tested per day, which the ISDH expects will provide a more accurate account of the spread of the new coronavirus in Indiana. Before the partnership was announced, the state only once tested more than 4,000 residents in a day.
On April 29, the ISDH announced a plan to bolster the state’s contact tracing efforts. It will centralize all contact tracing for COVID-19 through the ISDH for all Indiana counties beginning May 11. The state entered a $43 million contract with Maximus, an American outsourcing company, that renews yearly to open a call center staffed with more than 500 people trained by ISDH epidemiologists. Local health departments have performed contact tracing since before the pandemic was labeled as such by the World Health Organization on March 11.
“Without a therapeutic or a vaccine, unfortunately, we’re going to lose people all over the world,” Holcomb said. “You can lock down the whole thing, so our effort going forward will be all about managing through this crisis. I’m praying for a vaccine, but we have to do what we can do right now, and we’re taking the responsible steps and allowing folks to responsibly and safely return to some normal aspects of their lives.”
The state will post information and updates about the five-stage plan on a new website, Backontack.in.gov.
Communities and municipalities will have the authority to enact stricter policies than the guidelines outlined in the state plan, Holcomb said.
State and local authorities and designated state entities will uphold the policies outlined in the plan. As of April 30, state enforcement officials reported aggregate data from the start of the pandemic, and to date, 1,264 reports of businesses not following CDC social distancing guidelines. Of those, 1,130 were unfounded, and 115 resulted in a verbal warning and none required a cease-and-desist order.
During the roll out of the plan, Holcomb acknowledged the more than 1,000 Indiana residents who have died from the disease, saying, “COVID-19 has disrupted our lives beyond description.”