Coronavirus: Unemployment Rises, Advocates Concerned By Women’s Prison Lockdown

Jun 29, 2020

A worker at a Pilot Travel Center gas station in Greenfield, Indiana puts a stick on the door telling patrons not to enter if they feel symptoms associated with COVID-19. (Justin Hicks/IPB News)

The Indiana State Department of Health reported 33 additional confirmed deaths over the weekend, bringing the state’s total to 2,427. The state announced nearly 45,000 total confirmed cases, with more than 470,000 Hoosiers tested.

New Unemployment Claims Trend Upward For Three Weeks In A Row

New claims for unemployment benefits in Indiana have continued to rise slightly for three weeks in a row. At the same time, the number of people continuing to get benefits is slowly decreasing.

Preliminary data from the Department of Labor shows that more than 30,000 new applications for unemployment benefits were received last week. That number will most likely be revised slightly downward, but it places the weekly growth in new claims as the third-largest spike in the country behind California and Maryland.

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About two-thirds of those were for federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance for people who are self-employed or have limited work history.

IU Epidemiologist: Overseas Data On Reopening Schools Encouraging, But Limited

With a little over a month until school starts, the Monroe County Community School Corporation has released a tentative plan for getting kids back to school. Parents will be able to choose between in-person or online education.

When the corporation surveyed parents’, about 30 percent of respondents said they would consider keeping their students at home to learn online because of the coronavirus.

Elliot Haspel, an education policy expert and program officer for the Robins Foundation in Richmond, Virginia, says data from around the world seem to show that students 12 and under at schools that have opened are not spreading coronavirus.

“All the evidence points to the fact that they're probably going to be just fine,” he said. “They're probably not going to get it, if they do have a very mild and if they did happen to catch it, the chances of them then bringing it back home are actually quite low.”

The CDC reports since Feb. 1, 28 children 14 and under have died of coronavirus in the U.S.

In COVID Lockdown, Conditions At Indiana Women’s Prison Unhealthy, Advocates Say

The Indiana Women’s Prison has taken hard measures to contain the coronavirus. Many inmates in the prison have spent long periods locked in their cells — which have no toilets, running water or air conditioning — with limited opportunities for relief. 

As temperatures rise over the summer months, advocates and those with loved ones inside certain housing units, known as the cottages, worry about the heat and long periods of confinement. They fear it could cause health problems for the inmates, and say that the treatment amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. 

“It is unacceptable, and actually, it’s torture,” says Kelsey Kauffman, an advocate who used to run the Higher Education Program in the prison in Indianapolis and has stayed in touch with inmates there. “They’re using the pandemic as an excuse to do this to them, and they need to stop now.”

Kauffman and others also worry about the locked cell doors if an emergency arises, since the doors must be unlocked individually, and some are difficult to open. 

Last week, Kauffman sent a letter to Gov. Eric Holcomb outlining these concerns, requesting that cell doors remain unlocked to help with bathroom access, air circulation and fire safety. 

The Indiana Department of Correction denied her request. 

COVID-19 Testing Scarce In Indianapolis's Black Neighborhoods

This spring, as it became clear COVID-19 was hitting African Americans especially hard, Indianapolis-area health officials vowed to set up testing sites in “hotspot” neighborhoods. One opened in predominantly Black Arlington Woods, at a respected local institution: Eastern Star Church.

“Obviously this is a community and area that has health disparities. And so we’re here to serve the community,” Virgil Madden of the Marion County Public Health Department said when the site opened in late-April. “More testing is important to get a clearer picture of the virus’ impact.”

But a few weeks later, the testing site closed, leaving community leaders frustrated. The shutdown came even as national studies showed that Black patients suffered more serious complications and higher death rates from COVID-19. 

Eastern Star Pastor Jeffrey Johnson Sr. says the site was consistently busy, and he expected it to be open for several months. 

“Why are we withholding resources from this community that you told us that this is the area that's being hit the hardest by [COVID-19]?” he says.

That problem is repeated across the county which includes Indianapolis, according to a Side Effects Public Media analysis of testing sites.

City Of New Haven Gets Safely Back On Track To Celebrate The Fourth

While nearly all of the areas' spring and summer festivals have been canceled due to COVID-19 restrictions and health risks, New Haven, Indiana has managed to keep its citizens engaged and connected in a variety of socially distanced communal activities.

And most recently, its new mayor, Steve McMichael, has responded to the community's need for a safe and responsible way to socialize by devising a brand new Independence Day celebration for its entire community.

Bloomington Officials Still Support A Gradual Reopening Plan

Monroe County has continued to roll out its reopening plan slower than the rest of the state, and local officials want to keep it that way.

"We've done that for a reason," Monroe County Health Administrator Penny Caudill said. "Many states that didn't phase back into it are hurting."

National reports indicate states like Florida and Texas have reached record-high numbers in positive COVID-19 cases this past week, forcing a reversal of their reopening plans.

"We want to move forward strategically and methodically, so that we don't have to pull back drastically," Caudill said. 

Caudill said the county will keep its public gathering capacity lower than the state minimum as a safety precaution.

"Our numbers right now are showing that we're in a good place, but that doesn't mean that won't change," Caudill said. 

Mayor John Hamilton said the next obstacle during the pandemic is figuring out a way to safely manage the influx of Indiana University students that are expected to return in August.

Contact Lauren at lchapman@wfyi.org or follow her on Twitter at @laurenechapman_.