The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, March 17, 2020 1:00 am

Holcomb calls for closures

Bars, restaurants shuttered after 1st Hoosier dies of virus

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – State officials announced Indiana's first coronavirus death Monday as Gov. Eric Holcomb shut down bars, nightclubs and restaurants through the end of March.

“To those who think we may be overreacting, I can assure you we are not,” he said. “We are ... make no mistake about it ... at war with COVID-19.”

An adult from Marion County died at a Community Health Network hospital Monday morning. The person, who was older than 60, had been hospitalized as a COVID-19 patient and also had underlying medical conditions.

“A family today is suffering the ultimate loss due to COVID-19, and this sadly underscores how severe the virus can be – especially for some high-risk Hoosiers,” Holcomb said. “The state is taking unprecedented actions to slow the spread of COVID-19, and every Hoosier should follow the precautionary measures.”

“Stay home” was the advice given over and over again at a state news conference.

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness caused by a novel coronavirus that has not been previously identified. It has no vaccine or treatment.

As of Monday morning, 24 Hoosiers across 13 counties had received presumptive positive tests for COVID-19. All but one are adults.

Holcomb said precautions such as limiting bars and restaurants to only carryout and delivery will help slow the spread of the virus.

“We are aware of the economic hardships this is causing. The more we do now, the better we will be down the line,” he said, adding these measures could last into April or later.

Indiana was the last state in the region to take that action. Holcomb still hasn't ordered schools shut – though all but 16 districts have done so on their own.

Holcomb said Hoosiers should adhere to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, which recommend no in-person events or gatherings of more than 50 people.

Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett went further, shutting down places such as gyms and movie theaters.

Holcomb supported this move and said it is necessary because Marion County has confirmed community spread of the virus. Community spread means spread of an illness for which the source of infection is unknown. Previously, the cases could be tied specifically to travel or contact with a person who was known to be positive.

The governor also ordered hospitals and ambulatory surgical centers to cancel or postpone elective and non-urgent surgical procedures immediately. This action will help the health care system conserve resources and personnel necessary to meet emerging health needs.

Dr. Ram Yeleti, chief physician executive for Community Health Network, said Indiana doesn't have enough hospital beds if everyone gets sick at once.

That is why he encouraged those older than 60 and those with underlying health conditions to self-quarantine. And he said younger, healthy Hoosiers might not get sick but can carry the virus to someone else.

Holcomb said he doesn't have a crystal ball to know how many beds and ventilators might be needed. State Health Commissioner Dr. Kris Box said right now there is no shortage.

She also said testing remains limited, and only those with severe symptoms or who are in high-risk categories are currently being tested. About 80% of those who get the disease will have mild symptoms and can recover at home in isolation.

The Indiana National Guard is part of discussions for possible contingencies such as makeshift hospitals, but Holcomb didn't want to speculate too soon.

The governor acknowledged that the state of Indiana will take a hit financially as tax revenue drops. This is because fewer Hoosiers will be working or out buying things, going to restaurants, attending sporting events and more. Holcomb is ready to tap the state's $2 billion surplus if needed.

The Department of Workforce Development has also suspended rules requiring certain unemployment insurance claimants to physically appear at a WorkOne location to engage in reemployment services for the next four weeks. This will ensure that individuals who may be symptomatic do not have to physically appear to continue their unemployment insurance eligibility

The state will also request flexibility under federal and state law to expand eligibility for claimants and ease burdens on employers.

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