INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb outlined the state’s upcoming COVID-19 actions with a speech one year after he issued the statewide stay-at-home order during the early days of the coronavirus spread across the country.
During the speech, Governor Holcomb reflected on the past year.
“On this very day a year ago I announced a good many of us would need to hunker down… to care for those in urgent need,” Gov. Holcomb said.
Since the start of the pandemic, 12,553 Hoosiers have died from COVID-19 and 679,079 have tested positive.
The state has been providing vaccinations to Hoosiers, starting with the highest-risk and making the way down to younger groups. So far, 970,161 Hoosiers have been fully vaccinated.
During the speech, Governor Holcomb announced that starting March 31, all Hoosiers 16 and older will be eligible for the vaccine, provided Indiana receives a large increase in the amount of vaccine as outlined by the federal government. Additional mass vaccination clinics will be scheduled for April and the state will implement a large employer vaccination program.
The stay-at-home order was lifted after six weeks, but complaints from the public and some conservative state legislators have continued about the face mask mandate that Holcomb first issued in July. Holcomb’s current order continuing the mask mandate and crowd restrictions in counties based on the risk of coronavirus spread is set to expire April 1. However, starting April 6, the state mask mandate will become a mask advisory.
Face coverings will remain mandatory in all state buildings and facilities and in all vaccination and COVID testing sites until further notice. K-12 schools will continue under current requirements through the remainder of the 2020-21 school year.
Governor Holcomb announced during the speech that he will renew the state’s health emergency through the end of April, and current restrictions through April 5. Starting April 6, all decisions about the capacity of events will be up to local officials.
Local governments, private businesses and other entities may institute more stringent guidelines. The Indiana Department of Health will continue to provide county level, color coded metrics to provide information about whether virus levels are increasing or decreasing locally.
“Whether that is a bank branch lobby, on the factory floor or a county courthouse or city hall, they retain the authority to make decisions about COVID restrictions for their operations and should be afforded the respect, compliance and understanding of all who visit them,” Holcomb said. “When I visit my favorite restaurants or conduct a public event, I will continue to appropriately wear a mask, it’s the right thing to do.”
Customers in restaurants, bars and nightclubs will no longer be required by the state to be seated. Six feet of spacing between tables and other seating will still be recommended as is spacing between non-household parties.
As schools have started to return to in-person learning, Governor Holcomb said he hopes all K-12 schools will offer full in-person learning for all students for the start of the 2021-2022 school year.
Some health experts worry it is premature to lift the statewide restrictions, pointing to the steep increase in hospitalizations and deaths the state saw beginning in September after the governor lifted most business restrictions before reinstating crowd limits several weeks later.
“We put a lot of restrictions in place last year, there was some initial hesitation by some parts of the population to comply with some of those orders,” said Brian Dixon, an epidemiologist at Indiana University’s Fairbanks School of Public Health. “And then what we saw in the fall is that rates went up, they skyrocketed because people were not following precautions.”