Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb announced new social gathering restrictions that will go into effect Nov. 15 and be in place for at least a month to slow the spread of COVID-19.
During a Nov. 11 press briefing, Holcomb said the state is discarding its five-stage reopening plan. In its place, the state will use its county-level, color-coated map to determine new restrictions, which can be viewed at coronavirus.in.gov. Each county is given a color denoting the average score of cases per 100,000 residents and its seven-day positivity rate. Counties are assigned colors to show the level of spread. Blue indicates the lowest level, followed by yellow, orange and red. Red is the highest level.
Indoor and outdoor social gatherings in orange counties will be restricted to 50 people or less. As of press time Nov. 12, all but five counties were either orange or red. None were blue. Boone and Hamilton counties were orange. Special, seasonal or commercial events planned for more than 50 people in orange counties require a safety plan and approval from a local health department. Attendance at winter indoor K-12 extracurricular and co-curricular events is limited to 25 percent capacity. Only necessary personnel and parents/guardians can attend community recreational sports league events and tournaments.
Red counties will be restricted to social gatherings of no more than 25 people, indoors or outdoors. As of press time, nine counties were in red. Larger gatherings require submission of a safety plan and must receive approval from a local health department. Attendance at winter indoor K-12 extracurricular and co-curricular activities, including IHSAA sports, is limited to participants, supporting personnel and parents/guardians. Local officials in red counties may consider limiting hours for the operation of bars, nightclubs and restaurants. State officials said community recreational sports leagues and tournaments may continue with participants, required personnel and parents/guardians only.
Additional requirements for red counties include the suspension of senior care activities, closures of common areas and break rooms and possible visitation limits at hospitals, long-term care facilities and other congregate settings.
Churches and other places of worship are exempt from all restrictions, state officials said. However, they are encouraged to practice mitigation efforts. Additional guidance from state health officials for holiday gatherings and events is expected some time this week.
In response to the new restrictions, state officials said they will make $20 million available to local governments for compliance efforts, such as reviewing local event plans, public awareness and enforcement.
State officials cited record-high cases, increasing death totals, resource scarcities, hospital staffing shortages and record-high hospitalizations for the new restrictions. Two weeks ago, Holcomb said social gathering restrictions in neighboring states proved ineffective in slowing the spread of the virus. On Nov. 11, Holcomb’s message was that Hoosiers need to practice mitigation efforts to help hospitals from being overwhelmed by what he called a second surge.
“Our frontline medical personnel, our nurses and assistants and doctors, they’re exhausted and overwhelmed and need us all to do the things that we can on the outside that will slow the number of patients that need hospitalization and their treatment inside,” Holcomb said. “We must do all we can to protect our hospital capacity so they can protect patients and care for them.”
As of Nov. 10, 2,544 Indiana residents were hospitalized with COVID-19, Indiana State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box said during the same briefing. In the spring, the highest number of hospitalizations was 1,799 on April 13. Box said some hospitals are directing patients to other hospitals due to staffing shortages. The state reported a single-day record of 5,135 cases on Nov. 10. Moreover, the state’s seven-day positivity rate increased from 3.9 percent Sept. 16 to 10.3 percent on Nov. 11.
Holcomb said some residents have “let their guard down” with respect to mitigation efforts. He said they incorrectly assumed Stage 5 of the reopening plan was a return to normal and that greater adherence to mitigation efforts was needed until a vaccine is available.
“With your help, we can and we will get through this,” Holcomb said.
Vaccine and treatment advances
On Nov. 9, Indianapolis-based pharmaceutical firm Eli Lilly and Co. received emergency authorization from the Food and Drug Administration to distribute its monoclonal antibody therapy bamlanivimab to treat mild to moderate COVID-19 cases in adult and pediatric patients 12 and older.
“This emergency authorization allows us to make bamlanivimab available as a COVID-19 treatment for recently diagnosed, high-risk patients – adding a valuable tool for doctors fighting the now-increasing burden of this global pandemic,” stated David A. Ricks, Lilly’s chairman and CEO.
In addition, Pfizer, another pharmaceutical company, announced results last week from a clinical trial showing its two-dose COVID-19 vaccine proved to be more than 90 percent effective in preventing infection in participants. The company announced plans to ask the FDA for emergency authorization of the vaccine later this month.
Box said the state still plans for initial Pfizer vaccine distributions to arrive in Indiana this month. The amount will be based strictly on population and not on the number of cases, Box said.