Gov. Eric Holcomb announced that Indiana is now moving to Stage 5 of its opening amid the coronavirus pandemic. Here’s what happens now.
Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett and Dr. Virginia Caine, director of the Marion County Public Health Department, held a news conference Friday morning to discuss the city’s coronavirus response and the next phase of reopening.
The news conference came two days after Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb announced the rest of the state could move to its final phase of reopening, Stage 5, on Saturday. The governor also announced an extension to the state’s mask mandate.
Marion County leaders have consistently chosen a slower reopening path for the state’s most populous county.
Here’s what we learned at Friday morning’s news conference:
- Hogsett said Indianapolis has seen an improvement in COVID-19 data over the last month, with transmission rates dropping.
- The mayor said he understands and empathizes with city residents and businesses that have been frustrated by pandemic restrictions. He said tough decisions have come with the pandemic but containing the virus will help ease things.
- While Hogsett said he understands frustration may grow in the city as other areas of the state reopen, he said Marion County’s response is going to be very different than rural Indiana. He cited the city’s large population compared to the rest of the state and the number of out-of-county workers as special challenges for Marion County. The mayor said it would be irresponsible for Indianapolis to not have a different strategy than the rest of the state.
- Starting Monday, Indianapolis restaurants, bars, night clubs and other food businesses will be allowed to have 50% indoor capacity and up to 100% outdoor capacity. Restaurants and bars will continue to be closed at midnight. Bar seating will not be allowed because of its lack of distancing.
- Museum, cultural and entertainment venues will be allowed to open to 50% capacity.
- Gyms and fitness centers may expand to 50% capacity.
- Live entertainment can resume Monday at bars, clubs and performance venues with social distancing of a 10-foot buffer between stages and the audience. The audience must social distance.
- Church and funeral services may be held indoors at 75%.
- Indoor assisted living visits may be allowed, per state guidance.
- 1,500 people may attend an outdoor athletic event at schools, and 500 people or 50% capacity, whichever is less, will be allowed at indoor athletic events at schools.
- Caine announced new guidance for schools, including when schools may return to 100% in-person.
- Hogsett said the city will appropriate all of its remaining federal coronavirus relief funds to address food insecurity, homelessness, rent/mortgage relief and more. The mayor said the funds will also allow for grants to bars, restaurants and entertainment venues. He said the city will have more information on the estimated $10 million in funds next week.
- The mayor said these remaining funds are not enough, and he urged Congress to provide more relief for individuals and businesses.
- Hogsett said the city is putting together recommendations for Marion County families regarding how to safely celebrate Halloween. He said he expects those recommendations to be ready next week, about a month before the holiday.
- Caine said the positivity rate falling under 5% is a sign of success. The city’s seven-day average positivity rate was over 20% in April. It fell to about 4% in June. She said the city likely loosened some restrictions too soon, though, because the positivity rate went back up after the July Fourth holiday.
- After positivity rate, the next most important data point to Caine is the number of new cases reported in the county each day. While the city was at 150 cases a day at the beginning of August, now the city is down to about 85 cases a day.
- Caine said the county needs to get down to 35 cases per day as a seven-day average for two weeks and have the seven-day average positivity rate under 5% for the city to reopen fully.
- The health director said the city has not decided whether the city’s mask mandate will continue once it reaches these reopening benchmarks. The governor announced the statewide mask mandate will be extended through at least Oct. 17.
- She said the city’s emergency room visits have been flat for the last month.
- Caine said nearly half of the city’s cases are in 20-39 age group. About a quarter of cases in September have been in the 0-19 age range, but Caine said most of those have been in 18 and 19-year-olds.
- The health director applauded health professionals, who she said had three times the risk of getting COVID-19.
- Caine said city residents can make a major difference by following safety rules. She said the city must follow the science and the data. The city pays attention to guidance from Harvard and John Hopkins universities.
- When asked about previous damage to downtown businesses and the recent protests in Louisville, Hogsett said the city will take any necessary steps to protect against vandalism, looting and other forms of violence while also protecting citizens’ right to protest.
- Caine said social distancing at Sunday’s Indianapolis Colts game in Lucas Oil Stadium exceeded the city’s expectations, so they’ll allow the stadium to increase capacity.
Contact IndyStar digital producer Ethan May at [email protected] or 317-402-1058. Follow him on Twitter: @EthanMayJ.
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