INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana officials insisted Thursday that residents obey the state’s stay-at-home order to rein in the coronavirus spread and not take advantage of its travel and work exemptions.
Those appeals came as Indiana’s death toll from the pandemic rose three to 17, with new deaths reported from the rural counties of Jasper, Putnam and Franklin. The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state grew by 170 to 645, the Indiana State Department of Health reported Thursday.
Two more cases of coronavirus were confirmed in Elkhart County, bringing the local total to seven.
Neighboring St. Joseph County reported its first coronavirus death, a man in his 80s with underlying medical issues, health officials announced later Thursday. The man died Monday but the hospital treating him had to wait 10 days for test results to come back to confirm the death was related to the virus.
A total of 4,651 tests have been reported to ISDH to date, up from 3,356 on Wednesday.
The stay-at-home order issued by Gov. Eric Holcomb took effect Wednesday. The order has exceptions for workers in essential businesses or for necessary trips for food and medicine, but largely leaves it to individuals and many businesses to decide whether they are exempt.
Holcomb said Thursday the exemptions were “not encouragement to break the rules” and that the state has seen great declines in traffic and business activity.
“It’s all in an effort to get through this so that 100 percent can go back to work, not just the essential companies or the businesses that can conduct their business in a responsible manner,” Holcomb said.
State Police Superintendent Doug Carter said he was looking into reports of people being stopped by police officers questioning why they were on the roads. Carter said police departments have been directed to not require proof from people while the stay-at-home order is in place.
“Our communities have seen a significant decrease in movement – it’s working,” Carter said. “But there is no need for you to carry a document with you, nor can law enforcement officers stop you simply to say, ‘What are you doing out here?’”
The Indianapolis 500 on Thursday joined a long list of sporting events postponed by the coronavirus.
Motorsports giant Roger Penske, who finalized his purchase of IndyCar and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway earlier this year, announced that the Indianapolis 500 will take place Aug. 23, not May 24, meaning the race won’t run on the Memorial Day weekend for the first time since 1946.
Indiana National Guard members meanwhile began distributing medical supplies to hospitals and county health departments, escorted by state police cruisers. Federal sources sent several truckloads of items to the state health department this week such as masks, face shields and gowns, said Dr. Kristina Box, the state health commissioner.
Contributing: Elkhart Truth staff