INDIANAPOLIS — COVID-19 cases in Indiana have doubled each week for the past four weeks, prompting Gov. Eric Holcomb and State Health Commissioner Kris Box to announce the re-implementation of restrictions designed to reduce the deadly virus’ spread.
“Unfortunately, too many of us around the country have let down our guard and either assume we won’t get it or if we do so be it,” Holcomb said Wednesday. “Stage 5 has been viewed by some as a reason to return to the days before we ever heard of the word COVID-19.”
Holcomb announced that Stage 5, which started on Sept. 26, would be replaced with a set of requirements for counties depending on their community spread. Each Wednesday, the state categorizes counties based on weekly positivity and the number of cases per 100,000 residents.
For the first time, no county earned a blue rating, the best rating, and nine counties had a red rating, signifying the highest community spread.
Those red counties must limit social gatherings to no more than 25 people – inside or outside – though gatherings of that size are discouraged indoors. Local health departments may consider limiting the hours of operation for bars and restaurants.
The state’s 87 orange counties, with moderate to high spread, must limit indoor and outdoor gatherings to 50 people. These limits apply to K-12 extracurriculars, including sports, but exempt places of worship.
Box attributed the high case numbers to pandemic spread and “COVID fatigue.”
“We’re hearing that people are refusing to wear masks (and) that some employees are being told to come back to work even when they’re supposed to be in quarantine,” Box said. “Parents won’t test their children for fear of having to quarantine.”
Box said the state expected the current pace of the surge to continue for weeks and urged Hoosiers to take action now by wearing a mask, keeping socially distant from others and washing hands frequently.
“Our goal is to prevent people from getting it in the first place,” Box said.
Churches are exempted from the order but Box warned that every week the state experiences a spike in cases related to churches, where singing and praising “causes more dispersion of this virus.”
Holcomb emphasized that governments, both local and state, only had so many tools at their disposal to stop the spread of the virus and politics didn’t impact his decision. New restrictions weren’t designed to shut businesses down, he said.
“Compliance is sometimes helping folks walk through it,” Holcomb said about enforcing new mandates in businesses. “I don’t want to say that everyone is playing by the rules in the business community but, for the most part, what we’re concerned about … are the social gatherings.”
The state will send $20 million to local governments to help in their fight but details weren’t complete before Wednesday’s press conference.
With the holidays rapidly approaching, Box warned that the holidays would be a difficult time for Hoosiers, saying the state would release guidance next week.
“It won’t look like last year. It simply can’t look like that this year,” Box said.