INDIANAPOLIS – The latest executive order from Gov. Eric Holcomb, issued Friday, will permit many businesses in 89 of Indiana’s 92 counties to move to “Stage 2” of the plan to thwart the coronavirus, as detailed by the governor’s office.
Stages 2-5 gradually ease restrictions, prompted by the pandemic, well into the summer.
“Today I can report that, thanks to the discipline and actions of 6.7 million Hoosiers, we are ready to move ahead in a measured way,” Holcomb said in a virtual press conference.
Beginning Monday, retail and commercial businesses, including malls, can open at 50% capacity, with common spaces limited to 25% capacity. The limit on gatherings increases from 10 people to 25 people, and about half of the state’s Bureau of Motor Vehicles’ offices will open by appointment only.
Under Stage 2, nursing homes, playgrounds, recreation sites and gyms will remain closed, but personal services, such as nail and hair salons, may open by appointment one week after their county starts Stage 2. Businesses must still comply with social distancing and sanitation guidelines.
Restaurants and bars that serve food will be allowed to open for dine-in at 50% of seating capacity on the same schedule as nail and hair salons. Bar seating will remain closed.
Essential travel restrictions will be lifted beginning Monday and “non-essential” manufacturers will be allowed to open.
Public libraries may also reopen, though state officials encourage office employees to continue working remotely, if possible. The most vulnerable Hoosiers, including those with pre-existing conditions and those age 65 and older, are asked to remain at home.
Stage 2 measures apply beginning Monday to all counties, except Marion, Lake and Cass. Marion and Lake — Indiana’s two largest counties — can move into Stage 2 on May 11, while Cass County, which had a recent coronavirus outbreak at a Tyson pork processing plant, will be delayed until May 18.
The state’s economic recovery team also announced it will launch a marketplace for small businesses to purchase personal protective equipment (PPE), which is required for certain sectors under the new executive order. The state will also distribute $300 million from the Coronavirus Relief Fund on a population-based formula to counties.
Hoosier churches may reopen May 8 but social distancing and other practices “should be considered.”
The state recommends vulnerable populations continue to watch religious services online and advises church leaders to place hand sanitizers around the building, use face coverings and implement non-contact greetings. Holding multiple meetings would allow churches greater flexibility in limiting the number of parishioners, officials pointed out Friday.
More information about the state’s stage-by-stage plan can be found at backontrack.in.gov.
Officials stressed that the ability for counties to move forward with reopening will be tied to the capacity of their hospitals and said that guidance would be reconsidered if hospitalization numbers spike.
Enforcement under the order remains unclear, with state officials saying Hoosiers will self-regulate. Under the state’s last executive order, businesses received only verbal warnings and the state sent no cease-and-desist letters.
“Ninety-nine percent of Hoosiers have been doing the right thing and making a lot of sacrifices,” Holcomb said. “If people look for openings and shortcuts and believe that this virus won’t affect them as it does others, then we may slip. … That’s not what we want to do.”
According to the state update Friday, 1,062 Hoosiers have died of COVID-19 and 18,630 have tested positive for the coronavirus.
Holcomb warned that the “roadmap” to reopening could change, depending on the progress of the disease. He also noted that local governments may impose stricter guidelines.
“What we don’t want to do is entice people to go back into an unsafe area by being premature about any decisions that we’ve made. But we also don’t want to be reluctant to safely reengage,” Holcomb said. “Finding that sweet spot is a little bit of science, and it’s a little bit of art.”
The four “guiding principles” to continue reopening are: the number of hospitalizations related to COVID-19, the capacity of intensive care unit beds and ventilators, the state’s testing ability, and tracing contacts of those who have tested positive.
This week, the state announced two separate contracts to expand testing and outsource contact tracing to OptumServe and Maximus, respectively. Both companies had pre-existing relationships with state government.
Both programs are expected to be operational by May 11.
“If we cannot continue to meet our four guiding principles, all or portions of the state may need to pause or even return to an earlier phase,” Holcomb said. “This is up to each and every one of us.”
According to the state’s plan, Stage 3 will begin May 24, reducing limitations on gatherings and increasing in-store capacities.
Stage 4 is set to begin June 14, and the last stage could begin on the Fourth of July weekend.
But Holcomb repeated that the July 4 date isn’t a firm commitment.
“I thought it would be beneficial … for folks to see how far out in the horizon we’re looking and see how optimistic, quite frankly, we are right now,” Holcomb said. “July Fourth, yes, happens to be Independence Day. … But that’s not what guided us to that date.”