CHICAGO (CBS) — Saying Indiana is “ready to move ahead in a measured way,” Gov. Eric Holcomb said the state will begin easing the restrictions of its stay-at-home order for most of the state starting Monday.
Calling the COVID-19 outbreak a “very challenging time for Hoosiers,” Holcomb said the state will take a five-step approach to reopening by Independence Day.
“We are doing this together, and together we will overcome this disease, and come out a stronger Indiana,” Holcomb said.
Since the first reported COVID-19 death on March 15, the official death toll from COVID-19 stands at 1,062, with 112 of those fatalities coming in a five-county region in northwest Indiana. Lake County accounted for 92 of the lives lost, the second highest toll in the state. Lake reports a total of 1,929 people with the COVID-19 disease, which is caused by the novel coronavirus.
In the Indianapolis area, 339 people have died among more than 5,700 cases. Cass County has the highest infection rate per capita, with 794 total cases among a population of less than 38,000 people; or 322.1 cases per 10,000 people, by far the highest rate in Indiana.
The first stage was the stay-at-home order that has been in place the last few weeks, to help make sure hospitals did not become overwhelmed with virus patients, according to Holcomb
Holcomb said the second stage will begin Monday for all but three counties in Indiana. Beginning May 4, the state will begin lifting essential travel restrictions, and allow for social gatherings of up to 25 people.
Restaurants and bars that serve food would be able to open at 50% capacity, but bar seating would have to remain closed.
Retail and commercial businesses, including shopping malls, also will be able to open at 50% capacity. For shopping malls, common areas like food courts, would be limited to 25 people.
Personal services like hair salons, spas, and tattoo parlors may reopen May 11 by appointment only, and must follow social distancing guidelines.
Starting May 8, worship services may convene with more than 10 people, but must continue following social distancing guidelines. Holcomb also encouraged churches to hold virtual and outdoor services.
State government offices also will begin to open for limited interaction with the public.
The new measures won’t apply to Marion County and Lake County – the two most populous counties – until May 11; and won’t apply to Cass County, which has the highest per-capita infection rate in Indiana, until May 18.
The second stage also encourages people to wear masks or face coverings in public, and urges people over age 65 or with high-risk medical conditions to stay home as much as possible.
Local governments also could impose stricter guidelines.
Holcomb said the four guiding principles required for Indiana to begin reopening included: 14 consecutive days of decreasing COVID hospitalizations, retaining surge capacity for ICU beds and ventilators, the ability to test all Indiana residents with virus symptoms, and the ability to contact trace all COVID patients.
The governor acknowledged that easing some restrictions of his stay-at-home order could lead to a rise in COVID-19 cases, and warned that if cases rise too quickly, some of the changes could be rolled back.
“As life starts to slowly return to that new normal, making progress towards being fully back on track will require – require – constant vigilance from all of us,” Holcomb said. “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 of our stay-at-home order. In other words, this is up to each and every one of us.”
Holcomb said, if health indicators remain positive on May 26, Indiana will move to the third stage of its reopening.
The third stage will include allowing social gatherings of up to 100 people, allowing retail businesses to expand to 75% capacity, and allowing movie theaters to open at 50% capacity. Playgrounds, pools, campgrounds, and gyms would be allowed to open with social distancing requirements.
If the state remains on track on June 14, Indiana would advance to stage 4, with social gatherings of up to 250 people allowed.
Retail stores malls, and office buildings would be able to fully reopen, but with social distancing guidelines still in place. Restaurants and bars that serve food would be able to expand to 75% capacity, and bar seating would be allowed to open at 50% capacity.
Cultural and entertainment venues – such as zoos, museums, and bowling alleys, and amusement parks – would be able to open at 50% capacity. Sports leagues and tournaments also would be able to resume.
State government buildings also would fully reopen to the public.
Holcomb said he hopes to have the state ready for the final stage of reopening by July 4th, at which point the state also would decide how to approach the upcoming school year.
While social distancing guidelines would continue, the governor said fairs, festivals, conventions, and sporting events would be able to resume.
Retail stores, restaurants, bars, gyms, and other businesses could open at full capacity. Restrictions would be lifted at amusement parks and other similar facilities.