Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb isn’t ready to reopen businesses just yet, but he’s preparing for what that day will look like.
The state has been under a stay-at-home order, which requires non-essential businesses to shut down or work remotely, since March 25. Restaurants and bars have been limited to take-out and delivery-only services since March 16.
The current stay-at-home order is set to expire Monday, and is expected to be tweaked and extended. But Holcomb said during Wednesday’s press briefing that he’s talking to the business community about how to safely get people back to work and how to keep employees safe once they’re there.
“We want to make sure that employees have a very high level of confidence about the workplace,” Holcomb said.
Holcomb said reopening the state’s economy will be a “rolling” process.
“It won’t be all at once,” Holcomb said. “It won’t be flipping a light switch.”
He didn’t offer specific measures he’s considering, but officials in other states have discussed waiters wearing masks and gloves at restaurants, staggering when students arrive at school and maintaining bans on large public gatherings like sporting events and concerts.
Other countries have slowly lifted restrictions on which businesses can operate as a way to ease back into a fully operating economy, but officials have warned that restrictions could quickly be put back in place, if necessary.
Holcomb said he’s talking to governors in the surrounding states—Michigan, Illinois, Kentucky and Ohio—about when Indiana’s economy may start to reopen and how exactly to do it because “we’re neighborly and share a border” and the disease doesn’t care about state borders.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker has said he wants the states to have regional cooperation on restarting the economies, similar to what states on the East and West coasts have done.
“We’re not going to act alone in this,” Holcomb said.
Holcomb said he the state is taking steps forward every day—but also taking a step back as more Hoosiers die from COVID-19.
As of Wednesday, Indiana had nearly 9,000 positive cases and 436 deaths.
But it’s possible the worst may be coming to an end. Indiana State Health Commissioner Dr. Kris Box said on Wednesday that “we may be seeing a flattening of the curve” at least in some parts of the state.
“I’m cautiously optimistic that everything we’ve done has made a difference,” Box said.
Holcomb said he’ll be looking at data like the number of new positive cases, the state’s testing capacity, the amount of personal protective equipment available and the number of available beds and ventilators at hospitals, to determine when to ease the restrictions and guidelines.
Holcomb’s position seems to differ from Indiana Congressman Trey Hollingsworth’s views. Hollingsworth told WIBC earlier this week that when deciding between keeping the economy closed or seeing more Americans die from COVID-19, sending Americans get back to work “is the lesser of two evils.”
Hollingsworth clarified his comments in an interview with The Indianapolis Star on Wednesday, saying people misunderstood what he meant.
“I believe that I stood up and said on a radio show, [that] we are going to have to make tough decisions going forward, and we owe a plan that acknowledges the reality that the risk of the coronavirus will never be equal to zero and there are costs associated with this shutdown of our economy, real costs that Hoosiers and Americans are bearing,” Hollingsworth told IndyStar. “What I got back was ‘Trey wants people to die.’ I never said that and it’s not true.”
When asked about Hollingsworth’s comments, Holcomb said he doesn’t think it’s “an either-or choice or decision.”
“I want to get us back to work as soon as it’s safe,” Holcomb said. “We’ll do that as soon as it’s safe to do that.”