'Virus On The Prowl': Indiana Delays Move Into Phase 5 As The Country Lives 'On Virus Time'

By WBBM Newsradio 780 AM & 105.9 FM

INDIANAPOLIS (WBBM NEWSRADIO/AP) —Indiana’s plan to move to the next phase of reopening, essentially wide-open, has been put on hold.  

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb said Wednesday he is concerned about the recent spikes in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Holcomb said the virus is on the prowl, and instead of moving to Phase 5, it will be Phase 4.5 - meaning most things will stay the same for the next two weeks. Capacity limits will remain in place for restaurants, bars, and entertainment venues; and the state will continue its current 250-person limit on social gatherings rather than eliminating that maximum.

"We just have to accept the fact, more than recognize it, but accept it, that again, this virus is on the prowl and it's moving. And it is moving even within our boarders and different counties in our state, different positivity rates. We are living on virus time, so to speak," he said.

He said said he was concerned about recent increases in hospitalizations across Indiana involving COVID-19 cases and other states that have seen fresh outbreaks after lifting restrictions on bars and other businesses.

Since June 12, Indiana restaurants have been allowed 75 percent capacity in their dining rooms, while bars, nightclubs, bowling alleys, museums and movie theaters have permitted open at half capacity.

Holcomb started easing restrictions in early May and had cited continuing declines in the number of people hospitalized in Indiana for the COVID-19 virus and the availability of intensive care unit beds to treat those seriously ill.

But state health department statistics on Wednesday showed an increase of 72 people, or 12 percent, hospitalized with the coronavirus.

Holcomb said he will let some parts of reopening proceed as planned effective Saturday, including allowing outdoor festivals and the opening of youth overnight camps. Holcomb said schools were still being allowed to start their fall semesters as soon as late July and that school sports and other extracurricular activities could resume Monday as planned.

Holcomb also announced a new campaign, called "Mask Up, Hoosiers", encouraging people to wear them. He said he would not issue a statewide mask mandate.

“We know it works,” he said. “I hope people don’t look at it as inconvenient, but look at it as cool, like I’m doing my part, my patriotic duty to try to get us through this sooner rather than later.”

Indiana Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box noted requring masks in certain situations would probably back-fire and cause more people not to wear them.

“My concern is it sometimes makes people almost more stubborn and stand their ground,” she said.

Michigan’s governor said Wednesday she was closing indoor seating in bars for much of the state after an outbreak tied to a large brew pub in East Lansing has spread to about 140 people from a dozen counties. Outbreaks in Florida, Arizona, Texas and California have caused those states to shut down bars and beaches and curb restaurant capacity.

Indiana’s monthly deaths involving confirmed coronavirus infections dropped by more than half during June. Figures released Wednesday by state health officials reported at least 393 such deaths in June — down from 910 during May and 1,040 in April.

Indiana has had 2,650 deaths of those with confirmed or presumed infections since mid-March, according to the state health department.

Holcomb said he believed it was better to pause Indiana’s reopening rather than possibly face needing to backtrack later.

“This gives all of us a little more additional time to manage our way through this,” he said.

(WBBM Newsradio and The Associated Press contributed to this copy. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)