State moves to Stage 4.5 of reopening


State officials announced Indiana would move to Stage 4.5 of its reopening starting July 4, the same date Stage 5 of the state’s reopening plan was previously set to begin.

State officials during a press briefing July 1 warned some of Indiana’s guiding principles to reopening its economy indicated cause for concern. Thus, officials have decided to delay Stage 5, instead opting to move certain aspects of its economy forward while, at the same time, delaying others. Indiana will stay in Stage 4.5 until at least July 17.

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb said Indiana and state officials are “managing our way through this.”

“We try to control what we can control – our own action, our own behavior, our own conduct,” Holcomb said during a July 1 press briefing. “We know that there are things that we can do to slow the spread, especially as we await therapeutics and a vaccine. But the volatility that we see, even in some areas of our own state, but especially around the country and especially around our own borders is of concern. And that’s what’s given us pause to push pause in some areas.”

The state’s response comes after several states have reported an increase in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks. According to ProPublica, a nonprofit newsroom, 39 states have seen an increase in positive tests per 100,000 residents in the last two weeks. Indiana is not among them.

“This virus is on the prowl,” Holcomb said. “It is gaining momentum.”

When Holcomb unveiled the state’s reopening plan in May, dubbed the Back on Track plan, he said Indiana would reopen its economy while continuing to monitor and respond to four guiding principles: the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients, the availability of ICU beds and ventilators, the state’s testing capacity and the state’s ability to trace all contacts of positive COVID-19 cases.

Between June 26 and July 1, the state reported an uptick in the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients and daily admissions. The state’s daily positivity rate also increased during the same time.

On June 26, Indiana reported 595 COVID-19 hospitalizations. That number rose to 668 patients July 1. The state has previously peaked with over 1,000 hospitalized patients. Before the uptick, daily hospitalizations steadily dropped in June from 56 on June 2 to 33 June 25.

But ventilator and ICU bed availability has held steady in recent weeks – ventilator availability ranging from 81 to 84 percent and ICU bed capacity ranging from 36 to 40 percent. Statewide testing has also improved. Indiana was unable to consistently test more than 3,000 residents a day until mid April due, in large part, to the limited supply of testing kits and supplies. The state now regularly tests over 9,000 residents per day and reports no shortage of supplies.

Centralized contacting efforts have reached 75 percent of Hoosiers who have tested positive for the new coronavirus, 85 percent of which were contacted within 48 hours, averaging 2,500 calls a day. Indiana State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box said the number of Indiana residents with COVID-19 who were contacted is not higher because many of the state’s calls go unanswered. She urged Hoosiers to answer calls from if 1-833-670-0067 if prompted.

“We know that as people get out and about, we will continue to see more cases,” Box said.

While a few restrictions will lift July 4, during Stage 4.5, most will stay in place in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus and prevent an increase in COVID-19 cases. Elkhart County will remain fully in Stage 4 until at least July 17, due to its relatively high number of COVID-19 cases – over 400 in the last week, Box said. Local governments may impose more restrictive guidelines if they wish, and some counties have already moved to mandate residents wear masks.

Holcomb said he would not mandate masks for all Hoosiers. State officials said individual communities could best decide whether such a measure was appropriate, and Box said she feared a statewide mask mandate may cause some to be more fervent in their resistance to wear masks.

During Stage 4.5, social gatherings, following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s social distancing guidelines, will continue to be limited to 250 people. Dining room food service may continue operations at up to 75 percent capacity as long as social distancing is observed. Bar seating in restaurants may continue operating at 50 percent capacity. Bars and nightclubs will remain open at 50 percent capacity, as long as they adhere to social distancing guidelines.

Cultural, entertainment and tourism sites may continue operations at 50 percent capacity. Movie theaters, bowling alleys and similar facilities may continue operations at 50 percent capacity. Amusement parks, water parks and similar facilities may do the same. And raceways, such as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, may continue operating at 50 percent grandstand capacity. Fairs, festivals and other similar outdoor events may open in Stage 4.5. Pari-mutuel horse racing and county and state fair racing may begin with 50 percent spectator capacity. Youth overnight camps may open.

State officials previously announced K-12 school operations may resume July 1. Box said other countries that did not close schools during the start of the pandemic did not report a marked increase in COVID-19 cases, leading health experts to believe it is safe for Indiana schools to resume in-person classes.

State officials also announced Indiana had completed a statewide effort to test all employees at long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes. Preliminary data from the effort is expected by mid July, and state officials announced an interactive, online dashboard would be added to two to four weeks later, where the public will be to track COVID-19 data by individual facilities. State officials hoped to open most facilities to in-person visits by mid July after reporting a significant decline in the spread of the virus in the facilities.