INDIANAPOLIS — Starting next month, Gov. Eric Holcomb is easing up on gathering size restrictions, changing from raw numbers allowed at events to a percentage of a locations total capacity.
That new system will take effect Feb. 1 and run through the month as Holcomb and state health officials continue to monitor recently improving COVID-19 data, deciding whether to tweak it further over the next month.
“Thank you to every single person that has endured and lost and sacrificed so much,” Holcomb said. “We’re on the right path, but we never want to get ahead of ourselves or overreach.”
In November, Holcomb moved Indiana from it’s previous five-stage reopening Back on Track plan to a county-based restrictions system based on a county’s weekly color-coded rating based on per-capita case counts and positivity rates for the past week.
As part of those changes in November, gathering sizes were capped at 25 people for counties in red for very high spread, 50 people for orange counties with high spread, 100 people for yellow counties with moderate spread and 250 people for blue counties with low spread.
Numbers continued to surge through November and into early December but have seen considerable improvement since then, with cases, positivity, hospitalizations and deaths dropping.
Holcomb announced Wednesday that his new executive order, which he will sign Sunday, taking effect Feb. 1 will change those gathering limits to a percentage of a venue’s total capacity as opposed to a numbered cap.
Counties in red and orange will be limited to 25% capacity, yellow counties can go up to 50% capacity and counties in blue — of which there are none this week and have been none since Nov. 4 — can operate at 100% capacity.
“We are trending in the right direction,” Holcomb said. “We know what works in any environment and any situation and that’s got to do with continuing to physically distance and not cramming into areas and wearing face coverings.”
Small venues might actually see their ability to host gatherings go down under the new system compared to the previous method.
Indiana State Health Commissioner Dr. Kris Box noted in her weekly update that the statewide positivity rate has fallen to 9.1%, the first time that number has fallen below 10% in weeks. Hospital admissions have fallen to under 300 per day, down from more than 500 per day just weeks ago; and deaths have declined. Although she noted that Hoosiers are still dying daily from the coronavirus.
Dr. Lindsay Weaver, chief medical officer for the Indiana State Department of Health, provided an update on ongoing vaccine distribution, which remains available only for health care workers, emergency responders, nursing home residents and those 70 and older.
More than 477,000 Hoosiers have received at least their first dose and nearly 113,000 of those people have now received both doses and are considering fully immunized.
Indiana did recently receive news that its weekly vaccine allotments may increase from approximately 78,000 doses per week, which it is getting now, which could help speed up distribution to the public.
Weaver noted that the next eligibility group will be those 65-69 years old, which is a change from the state previously identifying those 60-plus as eligible.
However, that half-decade group could be up for their vaccines much sooner than later.
“We hope to be able to do that soon, hopefully within the next week,” Weaver said. “We are just as anxious to expand the eligibility criteria.”
New eligibility is totally dependent on the availability of vaccines. The state remains confident it can distribute significantly more vaccines through its networks of clinics in all 92 counties.
Holcomb supported Weaver’s statement, emphasizing “soon” in widening the eligibility.
“We’ll let the data drive our decisions, but I think it’s accurate to say ‘days’ not ‘weeks,’” Holcomb said.