INDIANAPOLIS — “We are ready to move ahead in a measured way.”
That’s how Gov. Eric Holcomb opened his daily conference May 1, outlining steps Indiana will be taking to reopen its economy and public to activity after slightly more than a month under a stay-at-home order.
Indiana’s stay-at-home order has been in place since March 25, requiring Hoosiers to avoid public places and shuttering certain types of businesses. That’s resulting in many businesses closing down completely, while many others have furloughed workers, leading to a rapid and stark spike in unemployment.
Since the middle of March, more than 580,000 new unemployment claims have been filed in Indiana.
Holcomb said May 1 the initial goal of the state’s response was to “slow the spread and flatten the curve in order to protect our health care system from a surge.”
That’s happened to date, which is why Holcomb unveiled his “Back on Track Indiana” program to allow for a step-by-step reopening of the state.
First, the decision-making process of state leaders will be dictated by four main factors:
• Continuing to monitor of the number of hospitalized patients.
• Maintaining surge capacity in terms of intensive care unit beds, ventilators and protective equipment to handle any new spikes in cases.
• Testing all Hoosiers who are COVID-19 symptomatic.
• Contacting all individuals diagnosed with COVID-19 and expand contact tracing of close contacts of those people.
If the state continues to make positive progress on each of those four metrics, the state will begin advance forward in the five-step Back on Track plan:
Step 1 is where Indiana has been so far — staying at home with non-essential business and travel restricted and schools shut.
With the state’s stay-at-home order expiring May 1, Holcomb said most of the state — with exceptions for Marion, Lake and Cass counties who are dealing with more significant outbreaks — would move into the next step on May 4.
Step 2 represents a limited reopening of business and travel, with the main first steps being reopening of industry, reopening of commercial businesses at a limited capacity and allowing some smaller-size gatherings.
Before getting into details, Holcomb first stated that people 65 and older and people with other high-risk conditions should stay at home as much as possible until further progress is made. As 91% of deaths in the state have been from people 60 and older, those Hoosiers will need to take greater actions to protect themselves from the virus in the community.
In Stage 2, travel restrictions are being lifted. Industries previously identified as non-essential will be allowed to reopen. Offices can resume work if they’ve been shut, but workers who can work from home are encouraged to continue doing so.
Retail and commercial businesses like apparel shops, furniture stores, jewelry stores, liquor stores, etc., can reopen at 50% capacity. Shopping malls can reopen at 50% capacity.
Restaurants and bars can also reopen at half capacity as of May 11, although side-by-side bar seating will still be ordered to remain closed for the time being.
Personal services such as hair salons, barber shops, nail salons and tattoo parlors can reopen as of May 11 by appointment only and with proper social distancing guidelines in use.
And, as of May 8, churches may also convene again in small sizes and while practicing social distancing as much as possible. Parishioners 65 and older are encouraged not to attend in-person due to risk factors. Holcomb advised, however, that continuing virtual services or outdoor services are preferred.
“Church leaders, we need you to keep your congregations safe,” Holcomb said.
Lastly, gatherings of up to 25 people will be allowed.
If all goes well and stays on track, by May 24, the state can advance again.
Stage 3 will see a continuing incremental reopening of businesses and public spaces, along with guidance that people 65 and older can begin to head out, albeit cautiously.
Social gatherings of up to 100 people may resume.
Retail stores and malls can move up to 75% capacity. Movie theaters can reopen at this point at 50% capacity. Mall common areas, food courts and sitting areas can be utilized at 50% capacity.
Playgrounds, tennis courts, basketball courts, gyms, fitness centers and more can reopen with restrictions.
Holcomb paused to stress that all during this time, the state will continuing monitoring its four factors.
“All the while, we will be constantly monitoring what is happening in every community across our state real time,” Holcomb said.
Again, if the metrics remain good and the state continues making progress, the next stage may take effect as soon as June 14.
Like the previous stages, Stage 4 will contain another incremental step up for businesses but also signal the return of larger attractions.
“We hope we can open up the stage even more in mid-June to get you back to more of the activities you and your families are used to and missing so much,” Holcomb said.
At this time, face coverings could become optional for Hoosiers.
Gatherings will be green-lighted for up to 250 people. Larger venues will be allowed to reopen with social distancing procedures in mind. Tourism sites, cultural venues and entertainment may reopen such as museums, zoos, bowling alleys, aquariums, pools and water parks at 50% capacity.
Recreational sports leagues and tournaments may resume with safety guidelines in place in time for the summer.
Dining rooms can step up to 75% capacity. Bar seating can reopen at 50% capacity.
Assuming good progress in this penultimate stage, the state could be back to business mostly as usual by July 4.
In the final stage, businesses will be able to return to full capacity, with the biggest change being the largest events can reopen.
Social distancing should still be practiced by people even in this final stage, Holcomb stressed.
Conventions, festival, fairs, the Indiana State Fair and other large events can potentially be open again.
Amusement parks, water parks and other facilities will be allowed to reopen at full capacity.
Holcomb said no decisions will be made about schools until a later time, closer to the start of the 2020-21 school year.
“This is our five-stage plan to get Indiana back on track. It’s a methodical, step-by-step plan for steady progress which we will carefully monitor,” Holcomb said.
What if things don’t go well?
The five-step plan and the dates associated with it are based on a best-case scenario. But if the state starts seeing troublesome signs in one of the four guiding metrics, Holcomb warned the state as a whole or certain regions may be put on pause or even may need to take a step back.
The process will be “art and science,” Holcomb said, in making the determinations on whether or not the stay needs to slow down, stop or even go backward for a bit.
“All or portions of the state may need to pause or return to an earlier phase,” Holcomb said.
As the state reopens and people have more and more public contact, cases will inevitably begin to rise. Completely stamping out new infections and deaths isn’t feasible, but keeping those figures under control and allowing health care to respond will remain critical.
How much progress the state makes and how quickly will, in part, depend on the actions of every Hoosier. If people take COVID-19 seriously and act responsibly, the state will likely be able to move forward.
If not, progress will likely be slowed.
“Now comes the hard part. As life starts to slowly return to that new normal, making progress toward being fully back on track will require, require constant vigilance from all of us as we lift restrictions and more people return to work, visit a store or restaurant, participate in more activity, the number of COVID cases will likewise increase,” Holcomb said. “This is up to each and every one of us, all of us.”
More specific information about the state’s Back on Track Indiana plan online at backontrack.in.gov.