INDIANAPOLIS– Mayor Joe Hogsett announced that Marion County will reach Stage 4 of its emergence from the coronavirus pandemic shutdown on June 19th.
“Retail stores and malls may open at full capacity with social distancing in effect,” said Hogsett during an afternoon virtual briefing with reporters. “Dining room service along with indoor worship service may increase to 75% capacity. And of course, outdoor worship services are not capped at all. Bars and nightclubs may reopen at fifty percent capacity. Bar seating in restaurants may now reopen.
“Newly opening businesses include movie theaters, bowling alleys as well other cultural, entertainment and tourism sites, including our museums as well as the zoo, all at fifty percent capacity.
“Businesses in office buildings resume at full capacity though with special accommodations for at-risk employees. Restrictions at government buildings will be determined by those government entities but for those that visit the City County Building, downtown Indianapolis, please be aware that face coverings will be required.”
The mayor also announced that the administration has received 14,000 requests for facial coverings from residents.
Marion County Public Health Director Dr. Virginia Caine said her staff will monitor fresh coronavirus positive test results in Marion County to gauge the impact of mass protests that have rocked Indianapolis over the last two weeks.
“We’re very very hopeful to not have any negative increase in cases related to the protests,” said Dr. Caine, “because it’s outdoors and because of the wind and everything, we’re hoping that that will counteract what we’re seeing in those individuals who may not have been wearing a face-covering in terms of when they have been walking.
“We are monitoring the situation very carefully and we should know definitely within a week to ten days whether we’re seeing any negative impact or increase in cases related to those individuals who participated in the protests.”
Marion County’s daily tally of new coronavirus infections has stayed consistently below 100 for the past two weeks.
Analysts hope that the easing of the virus’ infection rate indicates a second surge, if one is coming, would be milder than anticipated.
“I would not be surprised to see an uptick given what we understand about the virus,” said Dr. Shaun Grannis of the Regenstrief Institute who finds that social media tracking indicates Marion County is at about two-thirds of its mobility rate as compared to the beginning of the pandemic in March. “Over the next ten days, we may see [an] increase in the test positive rate. That would be an early indicator. We may see more people showing up at the emergency department with respiratory issues. Those would be some of the early indicators that we’re looking for.
“As I’ve watched the protests, I have wanted to continue to diligently watch the numbers. My hope is we don’t see an uptick but what we understand about the virus today suggests that there could be.”
Right now Marion County’s infection rate of all persons tested is 16.4%. Marion County has nearly 30% of Indiana’s positive cases and coronavirus deaths.
The impact of mass protests with thousands of people, most from Marion County but others from across the state and outside of Indiana, on Indianapolis’ infection rate and the health department’s ability to track those cases may not be known for another week.
“By that time we will have gotten some significant information in terms of if we’ve had any impact from the protesters, so that is just an additional abundance of caution for us so that we feel really comfortable moving on that June the 19th date,” said Dr. Caine, referring to the deadline for Stage 4 reopening in Marion County.
The size and anonymity and hometowns of the protest crowds may make tracing a potential COVID-19 virus resurgence difficult.
“What probably happens is I can interview them and get their closest contacts related to that and we can do a significant amount of contact tracing if they are local residents,” said Dr. Caine. “Where it gets more dicey is if they’re from out of state or from another town.
“We could say, ‘If you were participating on that particular date and we found some individuals who were positive, we encourage you to go and get screened and tested for COVID-19,’ but it does make it more difficult, yes, for contact tracing.”