Holcomb Announces New Steps To Slow COVID-19 Spread As State Reports First Death

Mar 16, 2020

Gov. Eric Holcomb announces a Marion County woman is Indiana's first COVID-19 death. (Brandon Smith/IPB News)

Gov. Eric Holcomb’s office announced new steps Monday to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. The changes affect bars and restaurants, hospitals and government agencies, among other groups. In a statement, the governor’s office said it was adhering to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance to cancel or postpone in-person events of more than 50 people.

Indiana Announces First COVID-19 Death

Holcomb announced a Marion County woman had died from the novel coronavirus Monday morning. The Indiana State Department of Health said in a statement the resident was older than 60, had been hospitalized because of COVID-19, and had underlying health conditions. 

READ MORE: What Do You Need To Know About Coronavirus? We’ve Got Answers.

“While we had hoped, prayed and worked hard so this painful day would never occur, sadly we knew it would. Still sadly, we anticipate that it will again,” Holcomb says.

Community Health Network’s Dr. Ram Yeleti says it underscores the need for Hoosiers to practice social distancing and self-isolation.

“Individuals that are young, college kids – all of you are saying, ‘Well, it’s not going to affect me.’ You’re not going to get sick but you will get somebody else sick,” Yeleti says.

State Health Commissioner Dr. Kris Box says the state must still prioritize testing for COVID-19 to those who exhibit serious symptoms and/or are in the high-risk category.

“Most people have mild symptoms and they should stay home,” Box says. “And they should contain their illness in their homes and isolate themselves from other people in their homes.”

Public School Corporations

The statement said 273 public school districts are closed – either using e-learning days or on spring break with future closures. The Department of Education is working with the remaining 16 school corporations to determine their next steps and needs.

In a memo sent to superintendents late Friday, the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) announced Indiana would seek "forgiveness" for required state tests, including the IREAD-3 and ILEARN.

Bars, Restaurants Closing

Indiana will join neighboring states like Illinois, Ohio and Kentucky in closing bars, nightclubs and restaurants to in-person patrons. Take-out and delivery will still be allowed. Holcomb says the closures are mandated through the end of March – for now.

“I think Hoosiers should expect to stay both informed and prepared for this to last as long as it does – and that means 30, 60, 90 days,” Holcomb says.

The Indiana Gaming Commission announced Sunday it had ordered the state’s casinos to close, effective Monday morning at 6 a.m., for at least two weeks.

Holcomb says he understands the economic hardship of the measures he’s taking.

“The more we do now … the better we’ll be down the line,” Holcomb says. “And so we will respond to the facts on the ground and be courageous enough to make the decisions that need to be made.”

Hospitals, Health Facilities

The governor’s office recommended hospitals and surgical centers cancel or postpone elective and non-urgent surgical procedures – with the caveat that physicians should continue to perform critical procedures. 

IU Health and other hospital systems have already restricted visitor access across the state.

State Parks, Recreation

The governor’s office also announced the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites, and the White River State Park visitor’s center will close starting Tuesday. 

However, Indiana state parks and recreation centers – including inns – will stay open. Restaurants will convert to take-out and delivery service.

Government Facilities, Services

The Indiana Department of Homeland Security’s Emergency Operations Center has raised to Level 1 status – its highest readiness level – and will work closely with the Indiana State Department of Health to plan and predict needs for the pandemic.

The state Department of Workforce Development has suspended rules requiring Hoosiers receiving unemployment to go to Work One centers in-person for the next four weeks. The department is also requesting flexibility under federal and state law to expand eligibility for claimants and ease burdens on employers.

This story has been updated.

Indiana Public Broadcasting’s Lauren Chapman and Brandon Smith contributed to this story.

This is a rapidly evolving story, and we are working hard to bring you the most up-to-date information. However, we recommend checking the websites of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the Indiana State Department of Health for the most recent numbers of COVID-19 cases.