Set Your Phase on “2”: Indy Looks to Reopen

by Thomas P. Healy

Beginning May 15, some Marion County businesses will be able to resume operations as local leaders begin implementing portions of Phase 2 of Governor Eric Holcomb’s Back on Track plan to reopen the state’s economy.

During a virtual briefing on May 13, Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett and Dr. Virginia Caine, director of the Marion County Public Health Department, both emphasized that curtailing COVID-19 will require a phased approach and constant monitoring to reduce the likelihood of its return.

“Our goal is to insure public health and well-being by mitigating the spread of disease and limiting the severity of the cases,” Dr. Caine said. “Social distancing is critical and it’s working. We cannot ease up.”

Mayor Hogsett concurred. “It’s important that we don’t let our guard down as we prepare for greater flexibility over the coming weeks.”

Public Health Order 9-2020 [PDF] sets out a series of measures through June 1. Beginning Friday, May 15, the following modifications to the current stay-at-home order will occur:

  • The number of people who may attend in-person public gatherings—including religious gatherings—will be increased from 10 to 25 people.
  • Non-essential retail outlets—including liquor stores and shopping malls—may open at 50% capacity. Restrictions on food service inside malls remain in place.

On Monday, May 18, the Indianapolis Public Library will begin limited curbside pick-up service at five locations, including Midtown’s Glendale branch.

Starting Friday, May 22, outdoor in-person dining may resume at restaurants but strict social distancing guidelines are mandated. Additionally, personal protective equipment (PPE) is required for all restaurant employees.

Meanwhile, nonessential businesses, manufacturing centers, and industrial enterprises must remain closed, as must salons, gyms, and bars. In-person dining inside of a restaurant remains forbidden, though these restrictions could be revisited June 1 if data allows.

To ease the hardship on citizens, Mayor Hogsett announced that the City is procuring face masks for free distribution to Marion County residents. “Any resident who needs a mask can and will receive a mask,” he said. Details will be released in the coming week.

Hogsett also acknowledged that obtaining and installing PPE represents a significant burden for businesses seeking to reopen—particularly small businesses. To help, he announced a partnership with the Indy Chamber to establish the Restart grant program.  The $5 million fund will provide reimbursement of up to $5,000 to small businesses for qualified PPE expenses.

Additionally, the City will look at ways to expand outdoor seating capacity in time for the Memorial Day holiday by helping restaurants secure temporary outdoor seating. The current Business and Neighborhood Services permitting process will be modified to expand seating where none currently exists—including in the public right-of-way—through strategic use of road closures as has been done in other cities like Tampa and Chicago . “This way we can provide opportunity for greater success and a greater buffer to comply with the social distancing order,” Hogsett said. Restaurants interested in more details about the program are encouraged to go here.

Dr. Caine observed that Marion County is heading in the right direction based on four key indicators:

  • Sustained reduction of new cases for at least 14 days
  • Sufficient COVID-19 testing
  • Treatment capacity at hospitals and long-term care facilities is sufficient to handle any surge
  • Ability to conduct active case monitoring and contact tracing

Dr. Caine said the county has experienced a sustained decrease in emergency room visits by COVID-19 patients as well as an overall decrease in positive test results.

“We will have to monitor data over the next two weeks to see whether we’re able to maintain no significant increase in cases,” she said. If the data shows an increase, “We’ll have to revert and move back to Phase One.”

Mayor Hogsett added, “These are not decisions made on the basis of public opinion. These decisions are made on the basis of public health.”