Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett said Friday that he would ease some pandemic restrictions on businesses in Indianapolis, but not by as much as the rest of the state.
Starting Monday, he said:
- Indianapolis restaurants, bars, nightclubs and other food businesses can operate at 50% indoor capacity and up to 100% outdoor capacity. That’s up from 25% for bars. Restaurants were already allowed to operate at 50% indoors. They will still be required to close at midnight.
- Live entertainment can resume at bars, clubs and performance venues, but only with a 10-foot buffer between stages and audiences. Audiences must practice social distancing.
- Museums, cultural and entertainment venues will be allowed to operate at 50% capacity.
- Gyms and fitness centers may expand from 25% to 50% capacity.
- Church and funeral services may be held indoors at 75% capacity.
- Assisted living facilities may open for indoor visitation.
Gov. Eric Holcomb said Wednesday he was moving Indiana to Stage 5 of the Back on Track recovery plan starting on Saturday, a move that essentially lifts all restrictions, except for some social distancing requirements and regulatory conditions for larger crowds. The state has been in Stage 4.5 since July 1.
Holcomb’s executive order allows local governments to impose more restrictive guidelines. Marion County has issued more stringent orders than the rest of the state throughout the pandemic.
Hogsett said Marion County’s seven-day COVID-19 testing-positivity rate has fallen to 4.8%, down from 5.6% at the beginning of the month. He said improving conditions made it possible to ease some restriction, but he wanted to see further improvement before fully opening to avoid a backslide.
Dr. Virginia Caine, director of the Marion County Department of Public Health, said Thursday morning during IBJ’s Health Care & Benefits Power Breakfast panel discussion that she wasn’t ready to lift all restrictions in Marion County.
Bar owners in Indianapolis have been especially critical of the county’s more restrictive measures. Earlier this week, the owners of 20 taverns and nightclubs filed suit against the city and health department, over what they called “arbitrary and unreasonable” pandemic rules.
Caine said the public health measures, and residents abiding by them, have led to incredible gains in slowing community spread of COVID-19.
At the beginning of August, the county was reporting about 150 new cases a day. Now, that number has fallen to about 85, she said.
Caine said in order for Marion County to fully reopen, she first wants to see the number of new cases a day drop to 35, based on guidance from the CDC. And the seven-day positivity rate in Marion County must stay below 5%.
“If we can get down to 35 new cases per day for two weeks and our positivity remains under 5% for two weeks, Mayor, you can shout ‘Hallelujah.’”
Caine predicted Friday that may not happen until November. But she said it’s likely indoor capacity at restaurants and bars will be allowed to increase as the weather gets colder.
Hogsett acknowledged that residents and business owners in Marion County are growing frustrated with the restrictions, especially as the rest of the state moves to the next stage. But he said because of Marion County’s size—it’s nearly twice as populous as Indiana’s second largest county, Lake, and has more residents than the eight counties surrounding it combined—the approach for reopening has to be different.
“Because of the population density, our approach will differ from rural and suburban counites,” he said. “Frankly, it would be irresponsible if it did not. However, our approach will always be guided by the best available data and the consultation of health experts.”