Is Indiana going to lock down again?

After voters opted to keep Gov. Eric Holcomb in Indianapolis for another four years, there’s been speculation afoot that the Republican is going to shut down the state again.

Two weeks ago, Holcomb called those rumors “100% not true.”

But then last week he introduced new county-based restrictions for counties that rate orange and red on the weekly COVID-19 spread metrics, that introduce some gathering-size restrictions and other limits, although stop short of ordering any types of businesses to reduce capacity or close.

Indiana’s numbers have gotten progressively worse every week since late-September and now are doing so at an accelerating rate.

So is a shutdown inevitable?

I don’t think so and don’t really want to see that again.

That being said, there comes a break point when it feels almost inevitable.

Looking back at March and April, when Indiana was in its “hunker down” stage that shuttered much of the business activity in the state, I think many people misinterpreted the main benefit of that period.

Most people seem to think the main goal was to cut transmission of the virus. Indeed, that was a goal, with officials talking a lot about “flattening the curve” before Indiana and the U.S. turned into a situation like Italy where the dead were piling up and hospitals were so overwhelmed there was little they could do to stop it.

It’s hard to gauge exactly how prevalent the virus was at that time, because Indiana was flying mostly blind. Our testing capacity was so small that, at the time, it was estimated that testing was only identifying about 1 in every 11 cases.

The virus was certainly here and doing a lot of damage, which we can tell from the high hospitalization rate and the number of deaths in that late spring period.

While cases are magnitudes higher now, we also have a much broader testing regime. It’s not a good measure to compare.

What is telling, however, is that hospitalizations and deaths are now running higher than they were back in April and May, suggesting that the situation now is probably worse than it was in spring.

But what I think many people miss is that the bigger benefit of the hunker-down period in spring was for the state to buy time to marshal a defense.

Yes, keeping more people at home would reasonably reduce the chance for the virus to spread. By doing so, what Indiana was really accomplishing was giving itself a month-plus to gather supplies, build its testing infrastructure, work with hospitals to build capacity and ensure that the state had a plan and the resources to try to execute it.

Coming out of May, Indiana saw hospitalizations, deaths, even cases decline. Positivity dropped a lot too. Whether that was the impact of a strict shutdown, the effect of warmer weather or the benefit of most people taking the virus seriously at that time, summer was a pretty good time in the state.

We built capacity, for if we needed it.

The problem is, right now, we’re chewing through that capacity.

Hospital capacity is shrinking at an alarming rate, with some health systems reporting they cannot take on new patients. If that continues shrinking, Gov. Holcomb may not be left with much of a choice.

But we also have to acknowledge the undeniable fact that the shutdown earlier this year was economically devastating to Indiana, to its businesses and, most importantly, to its citizens. That damage was not something Holcomb ever took lightly.

While Holcomb and other Republicans often boast about the strength of Indiana’s economy and job growth, people around here in northeast Indiana don’t have to look very far to know that there are a lot of people who weren’t doing great to start with and having massive factory shutdowns around the region made a lot of lives even worse.

Anti-mask mandate, anti-shutdown Libertarian Donald Rainwater did get 17.6% of Noble County’s vote, after all.

A shutdown may not be necessary right at this moment, but the caveat is that everyday Hoosiers have to do more to slow the spread.

Maybe that message is finally starting to get through as the case counts and deaths shoot to the moon.

I’ve noticed the “This is all fake!” loudmouths on social media have gotten a lot quieter recently. With the election past and with numbers getting even worse, I suspect it’s getting harder for them to justify that this is all just some grand political scheme.

“It’s only killing old people! Everyone else is fine! Who cares!?” some have said. Well, most people who have at least the barest shred of decency for human life instead of an absolute and callous disregard for the well-being of others.

As the last few months have proven, when you leave the virus unchecked and rampant among the low-risk young, it eventually finds its way back and kills the high-risk old.

I simply reject the defeatist attitude of others that there’s nothing anyone can do to stop or slow COVID-19. That’s an excuse to try to justify you not even bothering to try.

Holcomb has proven he’s patient. He’ll give Hoosiers plenty of rope to hang themselves with. But Holcomb has also shown he’s not just going to ignore the problem.

“When we lose that capacity to care, we’re going to have to become more restrictive. That’s why we’re begging with, pleading with, every Hoosier to do their part,” he said on Nov. 4.

COVID-19 isn’t going to go away or get better by ignoring it.

If Hoosiers want to avoid another lockdown, now is the time to prove it.

Steve Garbacz is executive editor for KPC Media Group and editor of The News Sun. It takes him longer to write the daily COVID-19 update story now because there have been so many local deaths and cases. He’d like to get back to the days when he could write there was little activity in the region. Email him at sgarbacz@kpcmedia.com.

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