INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana officials sought to explain Monday why the state is reopening its economy despite the fact that widespread testing for the coronavirus hasn't begun and the number of cases hasn't declined steadily.
The state's ability to test any symptomatic Hoosier was identified by Gov. Eric Holcomb as a principle of reopening Indiana's economy, but Holcomb and his administration relaxed some public health directives Monday before testing could begin and results could be analyzed.
Lindsay Weaver, the chief medical officer for the Department of Health, said that the state hasn't reached a peak of cases but rather has plateaued, with ventilators and intensive care beds consistently available at hospitals across the state.
"What we were looking for was based on the information that we had from other countries and from other states," Weaver said. "Because of all the hard work that we put in Indiana, we never really saw that big spike" in coronavirus cases.
The state plans to open 20 more testing sites Wednesday with contractor OptumServe, releasing a map of all 119 sites at https://www.coronavirus.in.gov/2524.htm.
Indiana officials encourage all symptomatic Hoosiers and those who have been in close contact with people diagnosed with the coronavirus to schedule a test through the portal at https://lhi.care/covidtesting.
The state's schedule for reopening doesn't conform with the recommendation from President Donald Trump, which says states should wait for a two-week decrease, not a plateau, before reopening.
"Declining cases over 14 days, again, that's just one data point," Weaver said. "At the same time, we're looking at all those other data pieces and saw that our hospitalizations had flattened out and started to decline."
Holcomb said that he would collaborate with other states and municipalities to enact his five-stage plan, announced Friday, to reopen Indiana gradually, with a target of full reopening by the Fourth of July.
"We'll have to partner obviously with our local officials, county by county. But the brunt of the responsibility falls on me and you and will have the most impact on where we are and how this virus spreads," Holcomb said. "To the extent that there are questions or issues that need to be worked through with local officials, we're ready to do that."
Joseph Heerens, Holcomb's general counsel, clarified that businesses need to have a plan by May 11 for reopening safely. Plans can include screening employees for the virus, requiring workers to wear face coverings and placing barriers between employees and customers.
"This plan needs to be posted and made available to the public," Heerens said. "It is also supposed to be provided to employees. ... It is meant to ... provide some confidence to the employees that the business has a plan in place to safely move forward with reopening."
Holcomb said business owners shouldn't feel compelled to open if they aren't ready.
"We are responding to a virus that is highly contagious, that has no vaccine or (therapy)," Holcomb said. "What we're trying to do is manage our way through this, and it's going to require businesses ... to be policing (themselves)."
Heerens said Monday the state would investigate complaints against businesses and would issue verbal warnings as necessary.
Religious services can resume in Indiana on Friday, a deviation from the reopening schedule for other organizations. But the state still recommends that churches follow social distancing guidelines, sanitize thoroughly and minimize the number of congregants.
"(We're) obviously counting on religious leaders to do what's necessary to protect the people that are part of their congregation," Heerens said.
Holcomb said he felt that churches would be the most "responsible" to reopen.
"If we can manage this, it gives us a lot of confidence in some other arenas, as well," Holcomb said. "We just thought a good place to start (or) have a test or control group would be houses of worship."
The Bureau of Motor Vehicle announced that 55 branches will reopen by appointment only. Peter Lacy, the department's commissioner, said he hoped to have all branches open by Memorial Day.