INDIANAPOLIS – Gov. Eric Holcomb shifted the state into high gear Wednesday – announcing most of Indiana can move to stage 3 on Friday – two days before planned.
That means gatherings of up to 100 people are allowed, gyms and fitness centers can reopen and movie theaters can start at half capacity.
“We've earned the ability to continue to move forward,” Holcomb said.
He attributed it to Hoosiers paying attention to the rules and following recommendations to wear masks, limit interactions, wash their hands and keep 6 feet apart.
“We have to hold each other accountable,” Holcomb said.
Most of Indiana has been in stage 2 since May 4. Lake, Cass and Marion counties will remain in stage 2 until June 1.
State Health Commissioner Dr. Kris Box conceded she has concerns and reservations about moving forward but stressed the four principles the state is using to guide the decisions.
She noted hospitalization of COVID-19 patients continues to drop, the number of available ICU beds and ventilators has remained steady, testing has increased and centralized contact tracing has begun.
Box said there were 581 new cases for a total of 29,274 statewide. There were 38 new deaths for a total of 1,716.
An additional 54 Allen County residents also tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total Wednesday to 1,098 cases and 65 deaths.
Holcomb will issue a new executive order today for the Friday move to stage 3. He urged people to read it because it will have guidance on various issues, including sports and camps.
Some of the items he mentioned Wednesday include retail stores and malls moving to 75% capacity; restaurants remaining at 50%; community pools and campgrounds can open; playgrounds, tennis court, basketball courts and similar facilities can open with social distancing guidelines in place; and gyms and fitness centers can open with limited classes, cleaning requirements and equipment properly spaced.
Holcomb said recreational sports practices can begin but contact sports such as football and lacrosse are still prohibited.
Youth summer day camps can start June 1.
Also in the next executive order he will extend the prohibition on cutting off utilities or filing eviction/foreclosure proceedings until July 1.
School buildings and grounds remain closed, as do bars and nightclubs.
Box also was asked about a push by the Trump administration to have all nursing home residents and staff tested quickly.
She said they are reviewing guidance on the issue but that would mean testing over 100,000 people in Indiana by the end of the month.
“I can assure you that is not going to happen,” Box said.
There is a goal to test every employee of a long-term care facility by mid-June. As for residents, the state continues to use strike teams to test when cases flare up.
The Indiana Health Care Association and Indiana Center for Assisted Living Issues said Indiana's present testing capacity is not enough to meet federal guidelines.
Just focusing on nursing homes alone, weekly testing of all staff and residents nears 90,000 tests per week. When adding assisted living community residents and staff, the total is more than 120,000 tests per week.
In comparison, Indiana has completed a total of 195,000 tests since March.
“Any mandate to require testing on a weekly or even bi-weekly basis is hollow in the face of inadequate supply of testing capacity and test materials. Costs to test, averaging $100 per test, will reach $5 million per week just to test all staff, a cost that is on the facilities themselves,” a statement from the groups said.
“Indiana must use its portion of the $11 billion that the White House has allocated to states for testing for expanding testing for longterm care residents and staff.”