INDIANAPOLIS – State officials addressed some progress in testing and government services Monday while also explaining why worship services don't have to follow gathering limitations.
Under the governor's new Back on Track plan, gatherings are limited to 25 throughout most of the state now, up from 10 people. But starting Friday, churches can meet for worship and other events with no limitations on the number of people attending.
“We just thought a good place to start or have a control group, would be places of worship ... ,” Gov. Eric Holcomb said. “But I did say we needed those church leaders to be responsible for their congregations. We can prove we can do this, and I think we'll see just that.”
Holcomb said state health officials will be able to learn from churches over the next 14 to 21 days on whether infections spread.
“If we can manage this, it gives us a lot of confidence in some other arenas as well,” he said. “What we're going to do is learn from these steps that we're taking.”
On Monday, Indiana reported 645 new confirmed COVID-19 cases and 17 new deaths for state totals of 19,933 and 1,132 respectively.
Another 45 Allen County residents tested positive for coronavirus, bringing the total to 657 confirmed cases and 55 deaths Monday.
Holcomb also clarified that wearing masks in public is not mandated by his plan, though some employees such as nail salon techs are required to wear them.
“It's optional because it's up to you,” he said.
The briefing also included the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles opening about 40 branches around the state for appointments. Commissioner Peter Lacy said they tried to choose locations so that no one would have to drive more than an hour.
About 20,000 appointments had been made already online or by phone. You can go to www.in.gov/bmv or call 1-888-692-6841 to schedule one.
The branches will conduct only certain transactions – written exams; new registration; commercial driver's license; title transfers; disability placards; new, amended or replaced driver's licenses permit or ID cards; update an existing title. Driving skills exams are suspended until further notice.
Locally, the Pine Valley, Waynedale and New Haven branches are open.
The Indiana State Department of Health also unveiled a new interactive statewide map showing all COVID-19 testing sites. The site is at https://www.coronavirus.in.gov/2524.htm.
Hoosiers can click on the individual sites and learn operating hours, cost, criteria to be eligible for testing and more. Allen County has three sites.
Holcomb was also asked whether Indiana has hit the peak of the virus. Dr. Lindsay Weaver of the state health department said when models initially came out based on information from other countries health officials expected a true peak then a decline.
“Because of all the hard work, we never really saw a big spike,” she said. “We went up, leveled off and are kind of going down.”