Originally published Oct. 14 in TheStatehouseFile.com

Gov. Eric Holcomb said Wednesday that he’s keeping Indiana at Stage 5 of his reopening plan even as the number of COVID-19 cases continue to climb and his own health commissioner, Dr. Kristina Box, announced she and her family tested positive for the disease.

At a technically challenged virtual press conference, a masked Holcomb appealed to Hoosiers who are “showing a disregard for the health of their fellow citizens” and acting “as if this current situation and this coronavirus doesn’t exist” to wear masks and maintain a safe distance from others in public. 

“Those decisions can directly and indirectly — even not intentionally — again, cost lives,” Holcomb said of people who are behaving as if the pandemic has ended. “More than 3,609 to be exact, as of today.” He was referring to the number of Hoosiers who have died of the highly contagious novel coronavirus.
 
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Gov. Eric Holcomb said he is keeping Indiana in Stage 5 of his reopening plan even though the number of people infected by COVID-19 continues to rise. TheStatehouseFile.com

Holcomb, who extended the mask mandate for another month, elaborated on the consequences of COVID-19 as it spreads through the community by citing increased healthcare costs, lost wages and business failures.

“Don’t kid yourself,” Holcomb said. “We’re all paying this bill and the bill’s coming due. And throwing caution to the wind ultimately ends up costing us all.”

Speaking at the press conference by phone, Box said that she, her daughter, and her grandson tested positive for coronavirus after an outbreak at her grandson’s daycare. Initial tests that are processed quickly came up negative, but they were followed with another test where they got positive results.

Box is asymptomatic and said she would keep the public updated on her condition as she quarantines and works from home.

“Listen to Dr. Weaver and what they’re saying, because our numbers are not good, they’re very concerning,” Box said. “It’s especially concerning to see what’s happening in our hospitals in several areas around the state, so please be careful.”

Indiana had 1,172 new cases of COVID-19 and 14 additional deaths Wednesday for a total of 139,269 cases and 3,609 deaths.

“As of yesterday, a total of 1,357 Hoosiers were hospitalized with COVID or symptoms of COVID,” said Dr. Lindsay Weaver, chief medical officer of the Indiana State Department of Health. “That is the highest number we have seen since May 13 and it underscores the importance of not letting our guard down.”

Weaver referred to the color-coded ISDH map that shows community spread in Indiana counties. Last week there were 39 counties in blue, eight counties in orange and one in red. This week, there are 24 counties in blue, 21 in orange and one in red. Local governments in orange and red counties are urged to consider implementing stricter restrictions on social gatherings and events.

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State health department data show the rise in the number of COVID-19 cases from last week, left, to this week. Blue indicates a low number of cases.

Weaver also said that some hospitals are near capacity because of the rising number of COVID-19 cases and they may need reinforcements from medical personnel, especially nurses, from other areas.

As a result of Box’s positive test, Weaver, Holcomb and other staff were tested after the press conference. Results are expected Thursday. Each individual at the press conference appeared electronically from a separate room and wore a mask.

In spite of the rising numbers, Holcomb said that he would not roll back to an earlier stage of the reopening plan. Capacity limits, like the ones in place in Stage 4 that limited crowd sizes in restaurants and other venues, do not prevent the spread of coronavirus in states that are still enforcing strict ones, he said.

But Holcomb did leave open the possibility of enforcing stricter guidelines in areas with the highest spread of the virus, but maintained that a one size fits all approach won’t work for the state.

His position drew sharp criticism from two sides of the political spectrum. State Democratic Party Chair John Zody said Holcomb’s approach to the pandemic has resulted in a record spread of COVID-19 while Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, was critical of the governor’s failure to include a penalty with the mask mandate. 

“Gov. Holcomb emphasizes social distancing and wearing masks, but there is absolutely no enforcement,” Lanane said in a news release. “He encourages Hoosiers to not attend large gatherings, but yet he has placed no restrictions on such events.”

On the other side, Donald Rainwater, Libertarian candidate for governor, challenged the effectiveness of the mask and social distancing mandates.

“If the Indiana State Health Commissioner, Dr. Box, can practice the highest level of risk mitigation and still test positive, this indicates that the precautionary measures are not 100% effective,” Rainwater said in a press release. 

Holcomb’s next COVID-19 press conference will be at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 21.

Taylor Wooten is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

TheStatehouseFile.com is a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.