Virus Outbreak Indiana

Christopher Ikemire prepares to test a customer Thursday at the Eastern Star Church in Indianapolis. Indianapolis city, health and faith leaders set up the new COVID-19 testing site in the city's most vulnerable neighborhoods. 

INDIANAPOLIS — Any easing of Indiana's statewide stay-at-home order won't limit the authority of city or county officials from imposing tighter restrictions in their attempts to slow the coronavirus that is blamed in the deaths of at least 1,000 people across the state, the governor said Thursday.

About 57,000 more people applied for unemployment benefits in Indiana last week as the state continues to see record numbers of newly jobless people stemming from the COVID-19 economic slowdown.

Statewide order

Gov. Eric Holcomb is poised to announce on Friday modifications to the business and travel directives that have been in place since March 25 as a growing number of states are loosening their shutdown orders.

Indianapolis officials, however, extended the city's stay-at-home order on Thursday by two weeks through May 15, saying the state's largest city was still experiencing too many COVID-19 cases to safely relax restrictions. Some other cities and counties around the state also have adopted rules responding to outbreaks in their communities.

Holcomb said he supported Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett's decision and that the new state order wouldn't strip away local authority.

"Local jurisdictions can always be stricter than what we have said," Holcomb said. "This has been the case, not just once, in the state of Indiana. We'll seek to 100% of the time work with those local officials."

Holcomb spoke Thursday from Kokomo, where he joined Vice President Mike Pence in touring a General Motors electronics plant that's been converted to produce critical care ventilators for hospitals around the country.

Holcomb said his changes to statewide restrictions will come in stages, but did not provide any details

"This will not just be back to normal, or back to business as we used to do it," Holcomb said. "This is going be very methodical."

Indianapolis rules

The Indianapolis stay-at-home order will continue until at least May 15, including a ban on dine-in service at restaurants and the closure of nonessential businesses such as movie theaters, fitness centers and hair salons.

The city has nearly one-third of both Indiana's COVID-19 deaths and confirmed infections and not enough slowdown in new cases to make resuming normal activity in large venues and densely populated neighborhoods, Hogsett said.

That step might not come soon as the mayor said he hoped Indianapolis "can reopen over the next few months so long as the data dictates that we can."

Shopping malls

The plan by Indianapolis-based Simon Property Group for reopening its three shopping malls in the city as soon as Saturday was opposed by city officials.

Dr. Virginia Caine, director of the Marion County Public Health Department, said she had "huge concerns" about the malls reopening.

"It would just increase our numbers dramatically, put other citizens at risk considerably, and it may undo all the good work we have put in place related to our shelter-in-place and stay-at-home philosophies," Caine said.

Simon has also planned to reopen seven other malls around the state. A company spokeswoman didn't answer questions Thursday about the status of its plans.

Holcomb said he believed Simon would comply with all state and local requirements.

Jobless jump

Federal statistics released Thursday show Indiana has had nearly 570,000 people seek jobless aid over the past six weeks. That growth in the unemployed since March 15 is more than five times greater than Indiana's total of about 105,000 people seeking jobs in February.

More than 30 million people across the country have now filed for unemployment since coronavirus closures started and economists have forecast that the national unemployment rate for April could go as high as 20%.

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