Gov. Eric Holcomb will issue an executive order Thursday permitting more components of Indiana's economy to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic, though Lake County will continue to be about 10 days behind much of the rest of the state.
The Republican chief executive said Wednesday he's satisfied Indiana has the critical care hospital beds and ventilator capacity needed for the anticipated growth in COVID-19 cases as the state moves into stage 3 of Holcomb's "Back on Track" reopening schedule.
"I can tell you, we are prepared for this now. We have a plan in place," Holcomb said.
As a result, beginning at 11:01 p.m. Region time Thursday — an advance from the original Sunday start to stage 3 — Hoosiers in 89 of the state's 92 counties, including Porter and LaPorte counties, can gather in social groups of up to 100 people, a four-fold increase over the current maximum of 25.
Retail stores and shopping malls can open to 75% of capacity while maintaining social distancing, dine-in restaurants must remain at 50% capacity, gyms and fitness centers can reopen in accordance with state guidelines, and community pools and campgrounds can reopen.
In addition, recreational sports practices can begin for non-contact sports, and basketball, tennis, soccer and baseball courts and fields can reopen.
Race tracks also can reopen with no spectators, state park inns are reopening and youth summer day camps may resume June 1.
The governor's initial stage 3 plan authorized indoor movie theaters to open at 50% capacity and children again allowed to use playground equipment.
Those reopenings have been postponed, however, until a to-be-determined date, likely in mid-June.
"The biggest problem is the number of people that touch those surfaces (at playgrounds) and children oftentimes put their hands to their mouth and to their face, and that's a very difficult thing to manage. So we are just not there yet with that," said Dr. Kristina Box, the state health commissioner.
"If we could work with our children to continuously clean their hands and keep their hands out of their face, but I couldn't even keep my kids from eating dirt when they were little."
Also remaining closed in stage 3 are bars and nightclubs; cultural, entertainment and sports venues; and elementary and high school buildings and facilities.
Holcomb said Lake, Marion and Cass counties won't move to stage 3 until June 1, since those three counties were delayed in entering stage 2 due to the higher number of COVID-19 cases in the counties compared to the rest of the state.
He stressed that just because more places are opening up doesn't mean Hoosiers are obligated to go if they feel unsafe. Holcomb said people age 65 and up, and those with underlying health conditions, especially should consider staying home as often as possible.
Holcomb also recommended Hoosiers taking advantage of reopened places continue to remain at least 6 feet apart from others, regularly wash their hands and wear a mask or another facial covering in public spaces.
"The number one thing you can do is wear a mask when you're around a lot of other people," Holcomb said. "When you're in close quarters, around a lot of folks, a mask is going to go a long way. We've been successful to date because, by and large, most people are doing these things."
The governor's Back on Track plan envisions Indiana's economy fully reopening by July 4.
However, Holcomb cautioned Wednesday continued progress depends on Hoosiers keeping the state's COVID-19 infection rate low and hospital capacity unused through good sanitary and safety habits.
"We're in this stage right now, stage 2, and stage 2 is a very important stage that got us to stage 3. Stage 3 will be just as important to stage 4 and it will determine when we get to stage 4," Holcomb said. "We're going to learn a lot in stage 3."
Stage 4 tentatively is scheduled to begin June 14. In stage 4, bars and nightclubs can reopen at 50% capacity, as well as cultural, entertainment and tourist sites. Casinos also are expected to reopen at 25% capacity in stage 4.
"This is a to-be-determined," Holcomb said. "We have put June 14 out there, but we don't know. And we won't until we go through stage 3."
Local governments across Indiana still are authorized to set a slower reopening schedule if officials believe it is in the best interest of their community.
Holcomb's executive order additionally extends to July 1 the current moratorium on utility shutoffs, the prohibition on new eviction and mortgage foreclosure actions, and the deadline to renew expired driver's licenses, state identification cards and vehicle registrations.