INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -
Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb announced Friday the steps toward relaxing
business and activity restrictions imposed to slow the coronavirus spread
for much of the state, allowing more manufacturers, retailers and shopping
malls to open their doors, starting Monday, under health and social
governor’s plan aims to gradually ease rules with the goal of allowing
nearly all activities to resume on July 4, potentially opening the way for
major summer events such as the rescheduled Indianapolis 500 on Aug. 23.
The new directive
lifts travel restrictions under the statewide stay-at-home order that took
effect March 25, but doesn’t allow restaurants to resume in-person dining or
hair salon reopenings for another week. Fitness centers, movie theaters,
bars and casinos are among businesses that will remain closed until at least
late May. A decision on whether schools will reopen in the fall won’t be
made until later.
Holcomb said he
decided to ease restrictions in 89 of the state’s 92 counties because he
believes Indiana’s COVID-19 spread has stabilized enough that hospitals are
able to care for those who are seriously ill.
“Our effort going
forward will be all about managing through this crisis,” Holcomb said. “I’m
praying for a vaccine but we gotta do what we can do right now. And we’re
taking the responsible steps and allowing folks to responsibly and safely
return to some normal aspects of their life.”
The new state order
comes as Indiana officials have reported nearly 1,250 confirmed or suspected
COVID-19 deaths since mid-March. Indiana has also seen a record-high surge
of nearly 570,000 people filing in jobless claims the past six weeks with
widespread business closures.
directive encourages people to wear masks when in public and continue
working from home if possible, while also raising the size of allowed
gatherings from the current 10 people to 25 people. It removes religious
services from gathering sizes limits effective May 8, allowing them to
resume in-person observances.
Holcomb said he
hoped churches and other religious sites would continue virtual and outdoor
“Church leaders, we
need you to keep your congregations safe,” he said.
protesters gathered Friday afternoon outside the Statehouse as Holcomb
prepared to make his announcement. Most were not wearing masks or observing
distancing guidelines as they shouted and held signs, with sayings that
included “Freedom is essential” and “Liberate Indiana.”
Holcomb’s plan will
allow retailers and malls that have been closed as nonessential businesses
to reopen Monday at 50% capacity. Restaurants can reopen at half capacity on
May 11, with servers and kitchen workers required to wear masks.
may still impose tougher restrictions to deal with outbreaks in their
communities. Holcomb’s new order keeps previous restrictions in place for
Marion and Lake counties, which are the state’s largest and lead Indiana in
COVID-19 deaths, and Cass County in rural northern Indiana, which had a
large outbreak that prompted the closing of a Tyson meatpacking plant last
officials have extended the city’s stay-at-home order that keeps many
business limits in place through May 15, saying the city was still
experiencing too many COVID-19 cases to safely relax restrictions.
Some major business
groups issued statements supporting Holcomb’s plan.
understands the terrible predicament that small business owners are in,”
said Barbara Quandt, state director for the National Federation of
Independent Business. “They’ve been hit with a double whammy: first they
were forced to shut their doors, and then they were given a horrific federal
plan that filled them with hopes of recovery but left them with nothing.”
state statistics showing a gradual decline in COVID-19 hospitalizations
since April 1 and steady availability of intensive care unit beds in the
state for feeling safe to ease restrictions.
legislative leaders credited Holcomb for balancing public health concerns
with the need to allow the reopening of businesses. The state Senate’s top
Democrat, however, said he worried the actions were too soon.
“The key has to be
the containment and decrease of the spread of the virus, not just whether we
can treat those who continue to fall ill,” said Senate Minority Leader Tim
Lanane. “Just because hospitals have the capacity to treat more patients,
doesn’t mean the state should be creating them.”
For most people,
the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up within
weeks. For some, especially older adults and those with existing health
problems, it can cause more severe illness and be life-threatening.
The governor’s plan
projects allowing movie theaters and fitness centers opening with limited
capacities beginning May 24. Bars and nightclubs, along with venues such as
museums and water parks, could opening at half capacity in mid-June.
Holcomb said he
hopes the state can lift all limits on gathering sizes and business
operations on July 4, although warnings for those 65 and older and anyone
with high-risk medical conditions would remain in place.
A key part of
Holcomb’s plan is a promise of increased testing and tracking outbreaks,
including building a team of 500 contact tracers for a state program set to
start May 11. The brakes could be put on the relaxed regulations if the
state sees a new surge of COVID-19 cases, Holcomb said.
“If people look for
openings and shortcuts and believe that this virus won’t affect them like it
does other, then we may slip,” he said. “And that will force us as a state
to come over top and start suppressing again.”