While You Were Sleeping: Coronavirus updates for September 25


INDIANAPOLIS — There were several developments in the coronavirus pandemic that you may have missed overnight.

Here’s a look:

Marion County update. Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett and Marion County Public Health Department Director Dr. Virginia Caine will provide an update on COVID-19 restrictions in Indianapolis and Marion County.

The state is moving into Stage 5 of its “Back on Track” plan, but Marion County has often stayed a step behind the rest of Indiana; the county has the highest number of coronavirus cases and deaths in the state.

As it currently stands in Marion County, bars and nightclubs were allowed to open at 25% capacity indoors and 50% capacity outdoors as of Sept. 8. Those businesses have to close by midnight; no more than six people can be seated at a table and bar-top seating remains closed.

Restaurants were allowed to expand to 75% capacity with social distancing.

Stage 5 recommendations. Meanwhile, Indiana will enter Stage 5 of the reopening plan starting Saturday.

Bars and restaurants will be allowed to lift restrictions, but health experts doesn’t believe all of them will.

“Just because the governor is allowing the state bars to open throughout Indiana at 100% capacity does not mean that the bars in Marion County will necessarily open at 100% capacity,” said Shandy Dearth, director of undergraduate epidemiology education at IU’s Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health.. “As we’ve seen throughout the pandemic, the local health officials can set different regulations that are more strict.”

Dearth still encourages people to enjoy outdoor dining when the option is open, especially while it is still warm.

Under Stage 5, people will still need to wear masks and social distance. The governor’s directive said people should take a seat whether at a counter or a table. Dearth encourages people to reconsider going into a crowded bar.

“I would just encourage people to really look at the crowd size, look at how safe people are being,” Dearth said. “Are they socially distanced? Are they crowded up at the bar?”

As restrictions lift, Dearth said establishments will likely experience some challenges.

“The more people drink, those inhibitions kind of go away with lots of things, not just wearing a mask or social distancing,” Dearth said. “But again, we would be concerned about people forgetting about the mask when they’re up and moving about.”

Stimulus reset. House Democrats are going back to the drawing board on a huge COVID-19 relief bill, paring back the measure in an attempt to jump-start negotiations with the Trump administration.

The Democratic-controlled chamber could also pass the $2 trillion-plus measure next week if talks fall through to demonstrate that the party isn’t giving up on passing virus relief before the election.

The chamber passed a $3.4 trillion rescue measure in May but Republicans dismissed the measure as bloated and unrealistic. Even as Democrats cut their ambitions to $2.2 trillion or so, Senate Republicans have focused on a much smaller rescue package in the $650 billion to $1 trillion range.

An aide familiar with the leadership discussions and authorized to characterize them said the new bill would total about $2.4 trillion and is likely to contain additional relief for the airline and restaurant sectors, which have been especially slammed by slumps in business from the virus. The aide requested anonymity to characterize the closed-door talks.

“We’re trying to figure out how to move a negotiation forward because we believe the American people need some help. And so we’re going to try,” said Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern, D-Mass. “Our chairs are looking at everything again and the hope is that we can come up with something.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., commissioned the effort, which caused a buzz in Washington’s lobbying industry — and whose news appeared to briefly spike the stock market — even as hopes for a deal between the Democratic-controlled House, the GOP-held Senate, and the White House still seem to be a longshot.

Unemployment disruptions. Many American workers applying for unemployment benefits after being thrown out of a job by the coronavirus face a new complication: States’ efforts to prevent fraud have delayed or disrupted their payments.

California has said it will stop processing new applications for two weeks as it seeks to reduce backlogs and stop phony claims. Pennsylvania has found that up to 10,000 inmates improperly applied for aid.

The biggest threat is posed by sophisticated international fraud rings that often use stolen identities to apply for benefits, filling out the forms with a wealth of accurate information that enables their applications to “sail through the system,” said Michele Evermore, an expert on jobless aid at the National Employment Law Project.

The bogus applications have combined with large backlogs and miscounts to make unemployment benefit data, a key economic indicator, a less-reliable measure of the nation’s job market.

On Thursday, the Labor Department said the number of people applying for unemployment rose slightly last week to 870,000, a historically high figure that shows the outbreak is still forcing many companies to cut jobs, six months into the crisis that has killed more than 200,000 people in the U.S.

The overall number of people collecting jobless aid in the U.S. fell slightly to 12.6 million. The steady decline in recent weeks indicates some of the unemployed are getting re-hired. Yet it also means others have exhausted their benefits, which last six months in most states.

About 105,000 people who have used up their regular aid were added to an extended jobless benefit program, created in the economic relief package approved by Congress this spring. That program is now paying benefits to 1.6 million people.

Applications for jobless aid soared in March after the outbreak suddenly shut down businesses across the U.S., throwing tens of millions out of work and triggering a deep recession. Since then, as states have slowly reopened their economies, about half the jobs that were initially lost have been recovered.

Yet job growth has been slowing, and unemployment remains elevated at 8.4%. Many employers appear reluctant to hire in the face of deep uncertainty about the course of the virus.

Most economists say it will be hard for the job market or the economy to sustain a recovery unless Congress enacts another rescue package. The economy may not fully recover until a vaccine becomes available.

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