INDIANAPOLIS – With Indiana's stay-at-home order going into effect today, Indiana police appear to be taking a conservative approach to enforcement as state health officials prepare for an onslaught of ill Hoosiers.
Both topics – and many more – were addressed at a Tuesday Statehouse news conference with Gov. Eric Holcomb and key cabinet members.
Indiana State Police Superintendent Doug Carter sent guidance to state police officers – as well as other law enforcement agencies in the state – saying breaking the executive order may result in a misdemeanor charge.
But he urged officers to use their discretion wisely “by only issuing a summons to those who make it absolutely necessary for you to act. Outright arrests should only be made in extraordinary circumstances.”
The memo pointed out that officers cannot stop someone just for traveling on the road. Police must have a “good faith belief” an infraction has been committed.
And Carter said if officers engage with Hoosiers they should remind the drivers of the order and ask them to return home immediately.
Fort Wayne-area law enforcement officers don't plan to pull over drivers to check if they're on essential business in light of the order. Instead they're hoping to rely on voluntary cooperation.
“I do not anticipate having to enforce this order,” Fort Wayne Police Chief Steve Reed said at a wide-ranging local news conference Tuesday updating city and county efforts to fight COVID-19.
Reed was echoed by Allen County Sheriff David Gladieux.
“It would be unreasonable that a police officer is going to be able to stop every vehicle driving around,” he told The Journal Gazette. “This is not a martial law situation.”
Carter said at a news conference Tuesday that he knows citizens are feeling anxious and praised Holcomb for his common-sense approach to stopping the spread of the virus.
“We all are going to be OK,” Carter said.
The stay-at-home order allows people in essential industries such as health care, food production and delivery services to continue going to work. And people can still go to the grocery, pharmacy, pick up carryout and even take a walk outside. But they should maintain 6 feet of separation with people.
“Hunker down Hoosiers is to make sure we get through this storm as fast as humanly possible,” Holcomb said.
He didn't have an answer for Hoosiers who believe their companies are staying open against the order other than to talk to their employers. While there is a hotline for business and industry there is nothing similar for Hoosiers who feel they are being taken advantage of by their companies.
Meanwhile, State Health Commissioner Dr. Kris Box said Indiana hospitals have not yet seen an expected surge of COVID-19 cases and preparation continues to ensure they can handle the patients.
The number of Hoosiers confirmed positive for coronavirus is now at 365 – with seven in Allen County. The majority of the cases – 161 – are in Marion County.
DeKalb County on Tuesday also announced its first case of COVID-19.
There have now been 12 deaths.
More Hoosiers are being tested for the respiratory disease – almost 3,000 as testing becomes more available. About 13% of tests are coming back positive.
But Box said testing should still be directed at high-risk individuals or those with severe symptoms. If you are sick she said you should be staying at home in isolation.
She did not have a breakdown of the cases by age or gender, though she said as more people are infected there will be people sick in all age groups. The more severe cases tend to be in those over 60.
Box also did not know what percentage are hospitalized versus staying at home.
She said currently there is a decline in hospital admissions as elective procedures have been canceled. But she expects a surge soon. She said General Motors is working to manufacture ventilators though currently there are ventilators sitting empty in surgery centers that aren't being used and can be redirected.
“We are still in the very early parts of his outbreak,” Box said.