Restrictions aimed to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus have put many Hoosiers out of work, with just over 22,500 applying for unemployment benefits in the first three days of this week.
Gov. Eric Holcomb held a press conference Thursday to announce further initiatives the state is taking to help struggling Hoosiers and businesses amid the spreading COVID-19 outbreak. He cited the sharp rise in unemployment claims—compared to 3,100 for the same period a year ago—to illustrate the dramatic impact of the virus on Hoosiers.
“This is novel and it is lethal and there is no vaccine yet, but as it turns out sometimes the best defense is a good offense,” Holcomb said of the approach the government is taking to halt the spread of the disease through the community.
Some of these initiatives include prohibiting utility service providers from discontinuing service, barring residential eviction proceedings or foreclosure actions, and closing all public schools until May 1 and possibly the rest of the school year.
Holcomb said if students return to the classroom this semester, the focus should be instruction and not testing and announced that standardized testing will be canceled for the academic year.
Meanwhile, health officials continue their no-stop work to monitor the spread of COVID-19 and provide the resources needed to treat patients. From Wednesday to Thursday, the number of people who have tested positive for the virus rose by 19—to 56 people in 22 counties, with the largest number concentrated in central Indiana, and two deaths.
Dr. Kristina Box, Indiana’s health commissioner, said the state has increased the number of people being tested for COVID-19, but is still focusing on the most critical in-need patients.
“Most individuals with mild symptoms do not need to be tested,” she said. “Even with expanded testing options, we still have a shortage of supplies and we need to be mindful of that.” She warned that the number of cases could climb as more testing through the state and private labs are rolled out.
“If hospitals are facing critical shortage of supplies such as masks and gowns, we know immediately, and we will help in whatever way we possibly can if their normal supply channels cannot satisfy their needs,” she said.
While Holcomb has called for many restrictions that affect every-day life, including the closure of in-person service at restaurants or bars for 30 days, he said Indiana isn’t to the point where it needs to shut down state parks, or quarantine the entire state.
“I haven’t slept in a while, I’m awake all day and night,” he said. “What keeps me up is responding to every single question that comes in.”
The state’s application to help small businesses in Indiana that have suffered substantial economic injury as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak was approved through the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Small businesses, agricultural cooperatives and non-profits are eligible for low-interest federal disaster loans through the organization and loans can be used to pay debts, payroll and other bills that businesses can’t pay because of the impact of the virus.
The loans are up to $2 million with interest rates from 3.75% for small businesses and 2.75% for nonprofits.
President Donald Trump signed a coronavirus relief bill into law Wednesday that includes provisions for free testing for COVID-19 and paid sick leave.
Those who work for the government or a company with fewer than 500 employees will be eligible for two weeks of sick leave at their regular pay rate to either quarantine, seek a COVID-19 diagnosis or preventative care, or to care for a family member with a COVID-19 diagnosis.
Indiana Sen. Todd Young said Republicans and Democrats have been working together in task forces to come up with solutions for businesses and Americans.
“I’m encouraged that members of congress are coming together and very quickly trying to draft discreet solutions to challenged Hoosiers and other Americans are facing,” Young said.
To help assist businesses, the Indiana Chamber of Commerce has created a resource page that provides information on key workplace and legal topics, a coronavirus toolkit, information on unemployment insurance and health and government resources.
All information on the resource site, www.indianachamber.com/coronavirus, is for any Indiana business and does not require an Indiana Chamber membership.
Lynx Capital, an Indianapolis-based company that provides loans and guidance to Hoosier businesses owned by minorities, is receiving help from Horizon Bank who is providing $100,000 of funding.
“Horizon’s investment in Lynx will help many of our minority-owned business neighbors start and grow their companies,” Horizon Bank Regional President, Dan Hampton said. “This investment helps us reach out to some of the underserved communities in our market.”
The Social Security Administration announced Monday that it would be closing all of its local Social Security offices. The agency said it encourages people to go online to apply for benefits including retirement, disability and Medicare benefits.
Victoria Ratliff is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.