With COVID-19 affecting virtually everyone in Indiana, from the unemployed to even the state’s medical commissioner who had a family member test positive, the governor is poised to make a decision about whether to relax some of the state’s restrictions.
Dr. Kristina Box, commissioner of the Indiana State Department of Health, said her 90-year-old mother-in-law was recently infected with the virus at a long-term care facility, but has since recovered.
“It has been heartbreaking and incredibly frightening and scary for my family and for me as we walked through this,” Box said at Gov. Eric Holcomb’s daily virtual press conference Thursday. “But she has had amazing care, and she is now 16 days out and testing negative for COVID-19.”
The state’s stay-at-home order expires Friday, and Holcomb has put off announcing whether he will extend the order — or relax portions of it — until his news conference that afternoon.
But at least some parts of the state will stay under the current restrictions. Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett announced Thursday that Marion County’s stay-at-home order will be extended through May 15.
“I know that continues to be disruptive and in many cases I’m sure that it’s disappointing,” Hogsett said. “In a perfect world we would remove all the restrictions and not worry about this anymore. But we all know, this isn’t a perfect world.”
Hogsett said he has consulted with health officials, all of whom have said Indianapolis isn’t ready to fully reopen businesses, including restaurants, bars, hair salons and other retail stores.
Reopening too early, he said, could harm businesses more long-term than keeping them closed for a few more weeks.
“We are winning this fight,” Hogsett said. “But what we do today, what we do tomorrow, matters just as much if not more, than what we have already done.”
Virginia Caine, the director of the Marion County Public Health Department, who joined Hogsett at the announcement, said Indianapolis is still seeing more than100 new cases of COVID-19 every day. That, she said, is simply too alarming to consider reopening the economy.
The state saw 669 new COVID-19 cases Thursday, bringing the total to 17,835. An additional 44 deaths were reported, with the statewide total reaching 1,007. Box said among the fatalities is the state’s first death of someone under age 19.
Caine said that expanded testing that the state is launching next week, combined with testing Marion County started this week at a local church, are crucial steps the county needs before fully reopening.
There are, however, some exceptions to the extended stay-at-home order. Caine said the county will be reopening farmers’ markets and golf courses Saturday and that she will put guidance for them into place this week.
The impacts of COVID-19 are being felt by virtually all Hoosiers, with many who are currently out of work.
Fred Payne, commissioner of the Department of Workforce Development, said that in April the state made nearly 1.4 million unemployment payments, totaling $732 million.
With some businesses expecting to reopen soon, Payne said that workers who are called back must return to those jobs to be eligible for unemployment benefits for the weeks they were laid off. Some workers have expressed concerns about the safety of being back on the job.
Refusing to return when there is work available could be seen as a refusal to work, he said, and could disqualify claimants from unemployment benefits.
Although he has yet to announce the decision he will make Friday, Holcomb said an important part of reopening the economy is ensuring every Hoosier that has the ability to work, works. Holcomb joined the press conference from a General Motors plant in Kokomo where ventilators are being manufactured. Vice President Mike Pence, Holcomb’s predecessor in the governor’s office, was at the plant for a tour.
“The way we get our economy back, whether it’s Main Street or out on the farm, the way we get our economy back is we get back to work,” he said.
Victoria Ratliff is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.