Indianapolis officials have decided to keep the city’s stay-at-home order and restrictions on nonessential businesses in place through at least next week even as statewide rules aimed at slowing the coronavirus spread have been eased.
Indiana’s top health official said Wednesday that the poor health conditions for many residents have likely added to the state’s coronavirus death toll, which has reached nearly 1,400 people in less than two months.
The governor’s new statewide order delayed any easing of Indianapolis restrictions until Monday at the earliest, but Mayor Joe Hogsett said Wednesday that the tougher city rules would continue until May 15. Hogsett cited the population density of the state’s largest city for keeping restrictions that have been relaxed in the city’s surrounding suburbs.
City officials are also continuing a ban on religious services that are being allowed beginning Friday in much of the state by Gov. Eric Holcomb’s order.
Hogsett said he knew that decision was “heartbreaking” for many people but insisted caution was needed in the state’s largest city, where state health officials have recorded at least 390 COVID-19 deaths.
A plan for starting to ease restrictions in the city should be released early next week, said Dr. Virginia Caine, director of the Marion County Public Health Department.
“If we do not continue to adhere to social distancing, if we do not let science and health data guide our decision making, any glimpse of reopening will not be permanent and our community members will suffer,” Caine said.
Dr. Kristina Box, the state health commissioner, cited Indiana’s high rates for smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity as factors that put people who have contracted COVID-19 infections at greater risk of severe illnesses.
Holcomb and other state officials have faced questions over his order easing business and travel restrictions across most of the state while Indiana has the country’s 11th highest per-capita coronavirus death rate. Indiana’s rate of nearly 20 deaths per 100,000 people is higher than Ohio’s rate of 10 and Kentucky’s rate of nearly 6 while trailing Michigan (42) and Illinois (22), according to data tracked by Johns Hopkins University researchers.
Box said the state reopening plan was taking into consideration the higher number of cases in allowing tighter restrictions such as in Indianapolis, northwestern Indiana’s Lake County and Cass County in rural northern Indiana, which had a large outbreak that prompted the recent closing of a Tyson meatpacking plant. Officials in southern Indiana’s Monroe County have also extended the local stay-at-home order.
“That is why we are taking a measured, phased-in approach as we continue to review the data for each county every day,” Box said.
Indiana health officials on Wednesday added 51 coronavirus deaths to the state’s death toll, raising the count of confirmed COVID-19 related deaths to 1,264 since the state’s first fatality was recorded about seven weeks ago.
Most of the newly reported COVID-19 deaths occurred Monday or Tuesday, but one dated to April 20, according to the Indiana State Department of Health.
The state health department also has recorded 113 presumed deaths of people with COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus. Those are deaths that state officials said doctors blame on coronavirus infections without confirmation of the illness from test results.