Indiana is operating under tighter COVID-19 restrictions again, effective through Dec. 12. Gov. Eric Holcomb signed an executive order Nov. 13 rescinding Stage 5 of the state’s reopening plan and reintroducing restrictions for counties experiencing high spread of the virus.
The latest executive order is substantially similar to Stage 5, but includes some new requirements for businesses and restrictions for counties based on their weekly color code rating from the state health department’s county metrics map.
That weekly map, which updates on Wednesdays, scores counties based on new cases per 100,000 residents over the last week and positivity rate over the last week. Counties are then assigned one of four colors based on scores from those two metrics — blue for low spread, yellow for moderate spread, orange for high spread and red for very high spread.
The new changed are focused at orange and red counties, which as of Nov. 30 accounted for 91 of the state’s 92 counties. Allen and Whitley were in red, the color indicating the highest rate of spread.
Here’s what’s new in the new order
Business face covering requirements
All Hoosiers businesses are now being required to place “clearly visible signage” at public and employee entrances notifying that face coverings are required for all people entering.
Businesses shall require employees to wear face coverings, although face coverings do not need to be worn in “private offices, private workspaces or meeting in which six (6) feet of social distancing can be achieved and maintained between individuals.”
Businesses also should only admit customers, clients, vendors and visitors who are wearing face coverings if not otherwise exempt.
A new section in the new order states that hospitals are directed to “implement evidence-based criteria to ensure sufficient capacity to care for all patients,” and should work to alter, postpone or cancel non-emergency surgeries or procedures to preserve bed space, staff and supplies.
The state has seen a major increase in hospital utilization over the past two months, with the number of patients requiring intensive care unit treatment more than doubling since late September.
Hospital systems around the state have been ringing alarm bells that they are nearing or already at capacity for treating patients, causing some systems to have to divert patients to other facilities.
While Stage 5 allowed gatherings up to 500 people without special approval from the local health department, Holcomb’s new order vastly expands and redefines rules for gatherings.
First, Holcomb reintroduced a section about religious services and churches, which encourages virtual services but does not place overt restrictions on religious services. The order, however, does require social distancing and encourages use of masks.
Wedding receptions and visitations outside of religious services, however, are subject to the wider gathering guidelines set forth.
The state is recommending that social gatherings be “cancelled or postponed,” but for events that do plan to move ahead, hosts much ensure social distancing, mask usage and other sanitation measures.
The order also reintroduces gathering limits now based on a county’s color code ratings — up to 250 people for counties in blue, up to 100 people for counties in yellow, up to 50 people for counties in orange and a limit of 25 people for counties in red. Events that will exceed those limits are required to submit a plan to the local health department and receive approval before proceeding.
The new capacity rules apply to both “social gatherings” — defined mostly as private gatherings like wedding receptions, funeral visitation, family reunions and parties, barbecues and picnics or club meetings — as well as “events,” which would fall into more organized professional or commercial public gatherings such as conferences, school events, concerts, festivals, parades, community celebrations and the like.
Groups seeking approval to have gatherings must provide the health department with several items of information including a information being distributed to guests; staff and volunteer screening procedures; social distancing measures; sanitation plans; face covering rules and compliance details. Plans must be submitted at least seven days in advance of the event.
Local health departments are ordered to review and approve or reject event safety plans or request adjustments.
Holcomb’s new order doesn’t appear to add any new restrictions to schools, but simply reinforces requirements from previous orders.
Students in grades 3-12 are required to use face coverings or face shield as well as any visitors to school campuses, unless otherwise exempted. Masks remain mandatory on school buses.
Masks can be taken off if an appropriate social distance can be achieved in classrooms or other settings, as well as in instances such as eating lunch or participating in athletic activity.
Guidelines for counties based on rating
The new executive order defines guidelines for counties based on their metric rating — blue, yellow, orange or red — which mostly entail additional requirements for counties at the two higher grades.
Counties in orange for high spread should have local leaders convene to discuss actions that could be implemented to reduce spread and school officials should review plans for extra-curricular activities and other events to ensure compliance with gathering restrictions and other mitigation.
Orange counties have gatherings limited to 50 people; businesses should reduce the number of people congregating in common areas like break rooms; attendance at K-12 activities including sports are limited to 25% capacity; and community sports leagues and tournaments can continue, although attendance should be reduced.
Red counties have similar measures to orange counties, with additional guidance for local officials to consider limiting operational hours for bars, taverns, nightclubs and restaurants.
Gatherings are limited to 25 people but are encouraged to postpone or cancel; businesses should reduce gatherings in common areas; restaurants are strongly encouraged to promote phone or online ordering and curbside pickup; school events and athletics will be limited to only participants, support staff and parents and siblings with no other attendees, and face coverings are required; recreational leagues may continue, but attendance should be limited to participants and only parents and minor children of those parents; senior center activities must be cancelled or postponed; and hospitals, long-term care centers and other congregate settings should limit visitation based on community metrics.
Counties will be expected to implement more restrictive measures if they move up a color code, but in order to ease restrictions they have to enter and stay in a lower color code for at least two consecutive weeks.
For example, a county moving from orange to red would need to follow guidelines for red immediately, but a county that moves from orange to yellow would have to stay in yellow or lower for two weeks before being able to ease off restrictions for orange counties.
The executive order introduces no new enforcement mechanisms, leaving enforcement to the Indiana Operational Safety and Health Administration and to state and local agencies including the Indiana State Department of Health, Indiana Department of Homeland Security, Alcohol and Tobacco Commission and local health departments and police agencies.
The enforcement structure has five steps. Those steps include:
• A verbal order to correct unsafe practices.
• If compliance is not met, a written order from the health department will be issued.
• If the written order is not met, the relevant local or state official shall issue a notice to close.
• If a closure order is issued, the Indiana Secretary of State shall also be notified to consider possible relevant revocation of license, permit or certification.
• If a closure order is issued, the matter should also be considered for referral to the local prosecuting attorney for possible criminal proceedings.