Coronavirus: Indiana Hits Pause On Reopening Plans, Scams Target Unemployment Insurance

Jul 3, 2020

The Indiana State Department of Health reported 21 additional confirmed deaths since Tuesday, bringing the state’s total to 2,469. The state announced more than 46,000 total confirmed cases, with more than 496,000 Hoosiers tested.

Indiana Sort Of Presses Pause On Reopening Plan Amid Some Worsening Numbers

Gov. Eric Holcomb announced Indiana will largely press pause on its reopening plan instead of moving to the final phase this weekend.

The state was set to enter Stage 5, which imposed virtually no restrictions on store and restaurant capacities or gathering sizes.

Instead, Holcomb said current capacity and gathering limits will remain for another two weeks.

He said he’s pressing pause because of recent upticks in hospitalization rates and the percentage of Hoosiers testing positive for the virus.

“It’s a very volatile environment out there around the country and it is in the state of Indiana, as well,” Holcomb said. “We’re not immune to that fact.”

Governor Holcomb Urges, But Still Won’t Require, Mask Wearing

The state of Indiana is launching a public service campaign to urge Hoosiers to wear a mask when in public to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. 

But the governor is still resisting calls to require mask wearing.

Other states – notably Arizona, Florida and Texas – have recently seen alarming surges of COVID-19. State Health Commissioner Dr. Kris Box said she hopes Hoosiers see what’s happening in those states as proof they need to wear a mask when in public.

“Indiana could very easily be in that same situation in the next two to four weeks or six weeks if we don’t take this to heart,” Box said.

Indiana Will Begin Releasing Facility-Level Data From Nursing Homes

After months of keeping facility-level long term care data from the public, Indiana will begin to release it later this month.

All of Indiana’s neighboring states and a growing number of states across the country have made similar data public.

The Indiana State Department of Health provided talking points to local health departments during a webinar last month about what to say if a person or agency requested any data. 

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Officials say now is the time to release more information because the state has resources to better analyze it. Dr. Dan Rusyniak, the chief medical officer for the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration said mitigation and prevention remain the top priorities.

"As we have all learned, responding to this pandemic requires us to continually evaluate our approaches and when appropriate change them," Rusyniak said. "This is one of those times."

AARP Indiana was one of the groups calling on the state to release the data. Wednesday, the organization applauded the decision and said, "This announcement is a strong step toward clearing up the confusion stemming from data provided by different agencies."

Indiana Latino Expo Canceled Due To COVID-19 Concerns

The Indiana Latino Expo has canceled their annual event due to concerns over the spread of the coronavirus. The expo was scheduled to take place at the Indiana State Fairgrounds Oct. 9-10. 

Indiana Latino Expo Board President Maria Luisa Tishner said the decision to cancel was a difficult one.

"This difficult decision was made because ILE's staff and board of directors believes the safety and well-being of our attendees, exhibitors, staff and volunteers must come first," said Tishner. 

Scams Cause Indiana's Unemployment Applications To See Biggest Increase In Nation

According to data released Thursday, Indiana had, by far, the largest spike in new claims for unemployment assistance in the country last week. The state says most of them are coming from foreign identity thieves trying to steal money.

The report shows the number of new applications for unemployment benefits almost doubled in one week. Indiana’s Department of Workforce Development said the increased benefits and self-reported nature of the new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program makes it a lucrative target. 

Josh Richardson, DWD Chief of Staff, said as the agency tries to weed out fraudulent claims, some legitimate claims will get extra scrutiny, too. 

Indiana Fireworks Companies Hit Hard By COVID-19 Cancellations

COVID-19 has been “totally devastating” for some Hoosier fireworks companies. One company owner says his business needs help to survive – and a proposal from U.S. Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.) could be the answer.

Mike Cartolano runs Melrose Pyrotechnics, which puts on fireworks shows. He said Fourth of July events account for 75 percent of his business – and he’s lost most of it due to COVID-19.

“In 2019, Melrose did 340 firework events during the Independence Day season,” Cartolano said. “And this year, we have less than 60, at last count.”

That’s where Young’s RESTART program comes in. He said it would provide loans to the hardest hit businesses, with forgiveness based on the amount of revenue lost.

Contact Lauren at lchapman@wfyi.org or follow her on Twitter at @laurenechapman_.