LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Indiana is pausing parts of its reopening plan during the coronavirus pandemic because of increases in COVID-19 case and hospitalization rates, Gov. Eric Holcomb said Wednesday.
Holcomb had hoped to move to "Stage 5" — the final phase in a gradual resumption of events, services and business operations — by July 4. But that's now been pushed back to July 18 to give state officials more time to review data, he said.
During that time, which Holcomb called "Stage 4.5," the governor won't allow bars, restaurant dining rooms and entertainment venues to return to full capacity. They're now operating at 50-75% of their pre-COVID-19 limit.
"We just have to accept the fact — more than recognize it, but accept it — that again this virus is on the prowl, and it is moving," he said.
Chicken Salad Chick in Jeffersonville, which opened under 75% capacity two weeks ago, said the reopening restrictions have not yet stifled customer turnout.
"I won't lie, I'm ready to get back to normal," said owner Karen Riddle. "But we've been so busy, and it seems to be going well here, so we're okay with (the state's decision)."
The move largely allows outdoor activities to continue resuming while halting the expansion of indoor events. Holcomb said studies have shown that COVID-19 transmission rates are 19 times lower outside.
Starting Saturday, festivals and other similar events may open outside. Horse racing and county and state fair races may occur at half-capacity.
Youth overnight camps also can start, while K-12 school operations were allowed to start Wednesday. Extra-curricular activities can start next Monday.
Speaking at a weekly news conference in Indianapolis, Holcomb said the state's positive COVID-19 rate is "up slightly" and noted that within the past week, there have been two days of more than 500 new cases statewide.
Hospitalizations also have risen he said, although the new admissions don't threaten the overall capacity of the medical system. As of Monday, 695 people were hospitalized for COVID-19, up from 595 last Friday, according to state data.
But those figures are still lower than hospitalization rates from a month ago and previous months.
"We are managing our way through this, which has been a goal from the very outset," Holcomb said.
He said some states are having "surges" of the virus at a time when positive cases nationwide are at a "peak."
With the Fourth of July holiday approaching, Holcomb urged Hoosiers to wear a mask in public and practice social distancing at fireworks shows and parades.
He and Dr. Kris Box, Indiana's public health commissioner, also unveiled a #MaskUpHoosiers campaign Wednesday to encourage face coverings. It will include public service announcements.
Box noted that Indiana's initial study of COVID-19 found that Hoosiers were asymptomatic in 45% of all cases. But Holcomb stopped short of requiring masks in certain settings, saying that a mandate could actually discourage people from wearing them. And, he said, some communities already require them.
He said he wants state government to lead by example. As a result, he said he will make it mandatory for public workers on state property to wear masks.
"We're recommending in the strongest terms possible that you think about your own life and who you love," Holcomb said.
He acknowledged that masks can be burdensome.
"Inconvenient or not," he said, "this can save lives."
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