New COVID-19 hospitalizations per day have been in decline across the state, which is a positive metric lead it to allow further reopening. Indiana State Health Commissioner Dr. Kris Box, however, noted that hospitalizations in LaGrange County are increasing. Screencapture
New COVID-19 hospitalizations per day have been in decline across the state, which is a positive metric lead it to allow further reopening. Indiana State Health Commissioner Dr. Kris Box, however, noted that hospitalizations in LaGrange County are increasing. Screencapture
INDIANAPOLIS — With statewide COVID-19 metrics holding in good ranges, Indiana will take the next step in its reopening plan two days early.

That being said, LaGrange and Elkhart counties received some additional conversation from Gov. Eric Holcomb and Indiana State Health Commissioner Dr. Kris Box as areas raising a little extra concern.

Northeast Indiana as a whole is something the state is “watching very closely” at this time.

Indiana is currently in Stage 3 of it’s five-step reopening plan, but on Wednesday, Holcomb announced the entire state could advance to Stage 4 on Friday, two days earlier than originally outlined in the plan.

The state continues to look at four main metrics — new hospitalizations, hospital capacity, contact tracing capacity and testing capacity — to determine whether Indiana is making progress.

Looking at the recent numbers, Box said hospitalizations have been in decline and capacity remains available. Contact tracers are still capable of contacting all new positive patients within 24 hours of test results coming in and that testing capacity is widely available to people who need it.

“The data looks good for now,” Box said.

“We will be able to advance to Stage 4 and we’ll be able to do it a little earlier than we anticipated,” Holcomb said.

Stage 4 means restaurants can increase capacity to 75%, stores and malls can reopen at full capacity, playgrounds can reopen and cultural sites, entertainment sites and movie theaters can reopen at 50%.

Youth and adult sports leagues and tournaments, as well, can also return, with Holcomb stating some specific guidelines for those leagues would be released by Thursday afternoon.

Although the entire state will advance to Stage 4 on Friday, Holcomb and Box singled out LaGrange and Elkhart counties, discussing some additional factors at play in those two counties.

Elkhart County has added more than 800 cases since Memorial Day, an 82% increase, while LaGrange County has seen 128 new cases since the holiday, a 213% increase.

Box noted significant increases in cases in “specific populations” may require some targeted testing efforts in those communities. On a followup question from KPC Media Group, Box said working with local Amish communities is a goal.

“Elkhart and LaGrange counties, we really believe they can move forward at this time. We have been in very close discussions with their commissioners, with their local health officers and with the other individuals active in their counties,” Box said.

The state is trying to work with partners in the Amish communities to expand the availability of testing and continue on education about large gatherings and other safety measures.

“The offering of testing (to Amish) will be there. We don’t always have individuals take us up on that,” Box said. “But again we have talked about larger gatherings that the Amish tend to have, which are faith-based gatherings they have, even when they have large weddings. That is something we want to continue to educate and support with the availability of testing.”

Box also noted that there has been an increase in hospitalizations specifically in LaGrange County, which was of concern.

While northeast Indiana maintains good capacity of hospital beds and ventilators in the area, the rise in cases requiring hospitalization in LaGrange County is something the state will keep an eye on.

”There is a lot of capacity in that region,” Box said.

Still, with large rises in cases in Elkhart, LaGrange, Noble, DeKalb, Allen and Koscuisko counties, Box said the state was meeting with several regional stakeholders today to discuss the recent rise in cases.

“The whole northeast corner has been something our data team has been working with me and we’ve been watching very closely,” Box said.

State officials reminded Hoosiers that while face masks are “recommended” in the state guidelines and not mandated, the recommendation is a strong one.

“All of this progress is with consideration that social distancing, physical distancing, all those practicing safe hygiene, are in place,” Holcomb said.

The governor also said that because Indiana hit the virus hard by taking strong measures early, the state bought time to grow capacity and respond to COVID-19 that is now allowing the state to effectively manage the response.

“We hit this hard at the outset and we are in a better place today because of it,” Holcomb said.
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