Indiana might be in the preliminary stages of a coronavirus surge already, but Gov. Eric Holcomb warned Tuesday about the dangers of de-escalating public health measures too quickly.
“What we don’t want to do is be premature about just reflexively jumping back after we hit that peak (of infections) and come down. … You’ve seen around the world where ... (the infection rate will) slip back up again,” Holcomb said. “We’ll always be in this new normal. Things will be different going forward.”
One of Holcomb’s latest executive orders extends the takeout requirement for restaurants until April 6. On Sunday, President Donald Trump extended social distancing guidelines until April 30.
“It’ll depend on where our health care systems are at that time,” Kris Box, the state health commissioner, said. “We may need to give our hospital systems some time to recuperate.”
Box warned of relaxing measures too soon, which could have the effect of prompting another surge that could overwhelm hospitals as they try to replenish their personal protective equipment (PPE).
“I really do think the surge is starting, but we are not at the peak of that surge in any way, shape or form,” Box said. “Other states and countries have seen little peaks come and go. … So we’ll have to be on the lookout for that as we go forward.”
Indiana hasn’t projected the possible number of deaths, but a March 23 graph from Holcomb’s address to the state estimated hospital admission would “most likely” plateau somewhere above 4,000, with the maximum number of projected hospital admissions somewhere above 5,000.
Box said that Indiana's high percentages of elderly residents and smokers are “concerning.”
Hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, two drugs being studied as possible remedies for COVID-19, still have “very limited evidence about (their) success,” Box said, asking people not to hoard the medications, which treat autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
The state total for deaths attributed to COVID-19 jumped from 35 Monday to 49 Tuesday. But Box cautioned against drawing conclusions, noting that testing through private labs to confirm the cause of death can take up to two weeks.
“I also want to urge every hospital across the state to continue to update their information about bed capacity,” Box said. “EMS systems need that information to make real-time decisions about where to take patients when hospital capacity is stretched.”
More than 11,000 clinicians, including paramedics, dentists, veterinarians, therapists and midwives, have volunteered their expertise to assist overwhelmed hospitals by sterilizing instruments or overseeing telehealth operations, Box said.
Tens of thousands of Hoosiers have applied for unemployment benefits since Indiana reported 3.1% unemployment in January. More than 120,000 Hoosiers have applied as of Tuesday, up from 3,400 applications the week before.
Fred Payne, Department of Workforce Development commissioner, said that staffing has been bolstered to keep up with demand and the department has increased bandwidth.
“We also have a new system that we’re working on in terms of how people can apply for unemployment insurance … (an) over the phone system,” Payne said. “That should take care of some of the backlog.”
The department currently accepts applications online only.
Holcomb previously waived the one-week mandatory waiting period before applying for unemployment benefits. The average benefit is about $300 and tops out at $390.
Under the $2.2 trillion federal stimulus package signed last week, the federal government will pay an additional $600 in unemployment benefits to Americans.
The workforce development department is still working on how to deliver aid to gig economy workers, such as Uber drivers, and the self-employed who previously were ineligible for unemployment benefits. The federal stimulus package also stipulates that those Hoosiers should receive benefits.