State pauses reopening plan

By TOM DAVIES
The Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana will keep capacity limits in place for restaurants, bars and entertainment venues because of worries about a possible increase in coronavirus cases across the state, Gov. Eric Holcomb said Wednesday.

The state’s reopening plan had called for those restrictions to be lifted this weekend, but Holcomb said he would keep them in place until at least July 18. The state will also continue its current 250-person limit on social gatherings rather than eliminating that maximum.

Holcomb, a Republican, said he was concerned about recent increases in hospitalizations across Indiana involving COVID-19 cases and other states that have seen fresh outbreaks after lifting restrictions on bars and other businesses.

“The volatility that we see, even in some areas of our own state, but especially around the country and especially around our borders is of concern,” Holcomb said.

Since June 12, Indiana restaurants have been allowed 75% capacity in their dining rooms, while bars, nightclubs, bowling alleys, museums and movie theaters have permitted open at half capacity.

Holcomb started easing restrictions in early May and had cited continuing declines in the number of people hospitalized in Indiana for the COVID-19 virus and the availability of intensive care unit beds to treat those seriously ill.

But state health department statistics on Wednesday showed an increase of 72 people, or 12%, hospitalized with the coronavirus 595 hospitalizations on June 26, which marked Indiana’s lowest level since the outbreak’s early days in March.

Holcomb will let some parts of reopening proceed as planned effective Saturday, including allowing outdoor festivals and the opening of youth overnight camps. Holcomb said schools were still being allowed to start their fall semesters as soon as late July and that school sports and other extracurricular activities could resume Monday as planned.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Woody Myers, a physician and former state health commissioner, said Holcomb’s decision to ease restrictions increased the danger of greater coronavirus spread.

“Our focus should be implementing a statewide mask order and encouraging Indiana to stay home,” Myers said in a statement. “In addition, Indiana still needs to expand testing and prioritize our disproportionately impacted communities.”

St. Joseph, Elkhart and LaGrange counties in northern Indiana have issued face mask mandates because of outbreaks in the area.

Holcomb said he would not issue a statewide mask mandate but encouraged everyone to wear face coverings.

“We know it works,” he said. “I hope people don’t look at it as inconvenient but look at it as cool, like I’m doing my part, my patriotic duty to try to get us through this sooner rather than later.”

Dr. Kristina Box, the state health commissioner, said a mask order could backfire.

“My concern is it sometimes makes people almost more stubborn and stand their ground,” she said.

Michigan’s governor said Wednesday she was closing indoor seating in bars for much of the state after an outbreak tied to a large brew pub in East Lansing has spread to about 140 people from a dozen counties. Outbreaks in Florida, Arizona, Texas and California have caused those states to shut down bars and beaches and curb restaurant capacity.

Indiana’s monthly deaths involving confirmed coronavirus infections dropped by more than half during June. Figures released Wednesday by state health officials reported at least 393 such deaths in June — down from 910 during May and 1,040 in April.

Indiana has had 2,650 deaths of those with confirmed or presumed infections since mid-March, according to the state health department.

Holcomb said he believed it was better to pause Indiana’s reopening rather than possibly face needing to backtrack later.

“This gives all of us a little more additional time to manage our way through this,” he said.




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