INDIANAPOLIS — Gov. Eric Holcomb will keep the pause on Indiana’s reopening plan for another month.
On Wednesday, Holcomb announced the state will stay in its current Stage 4.5 status — just shy of a full reopening — through Aug. 27.
“We will be staying in Stage 4.5 through Aug. 27. I’m optimistic by nature but I’m also optimistic about where we’re heading,” Holcomb said.
“I think we can get there. I want to be safe not sorry,” Holcomb said.
Holcomb originally took Indiana a half-step to Stage 4.5 on July 4, slowing shy of a full reopening at the beginning of the month, citing concerns about some rising cases and hospitalizations.
As the month continued, those cases and hospitalizations continued rising and after two weeks, Holcomb hit pause and decided to hold Stage 4.5 on July 18 for “at least two weeks.”
Wednesday, the governor opted to keep the state there for another month going forward.
Indiana set a new single-day record high for cases late last week and although cases have fallen off a little bit since, they still remain significantly higher than in June.
Also, Indiana State Health Commissioner Dr. Kris Box noted that the statewide positivity rate remains high and has not started to come down yet.
After hitting a seven-day low of 4.5% on June 18, the rate rose to 6.5% by July 4 and has continued climbing to 6.8% on July 21. Single-day rates since have been even higher, up above 8% for the past few days.
The state will be making an important update to its data reporting that specifically affects positivity rates, with Box stating Indiana will begin listing the total number of tests taken per day.
Currently, Indiana’s dashboard counts unique people tested and unique cases. That means if people are tested multiple times or test positive multiple times that they are only counted once. Therefore, the state numbers reflect individual Hoosiers who have been tested or been infected.
But because the state only counts a person as tested the first time they are tested, if they tested negative once or multiple times and then test positive later, the data could be impacted by recording one positive test that day to zero tests, thereby slightly inflating the daily positivity rate.
The state will now also begin displaying the “total tests administered” that day, which will allow a more accurate daily positivity rate calculation by taking positive cases per all tests administered.
Box then also spoke about the importance of contact tracing, stating that participation has been up slightly since June but that about 1-in-5 people contacted still do not respond.
In July, contact tracers were able to reach 80% of people who tested positive either to complete an initial interview or receive a verbal refusal to participate.
While the rate was up slightly from 77% response rate in June, Box said she is most concerned about the 20% of people that contact tracers are not able to reach.
Contact tracing allows health officers to inform people who test positive of steps to isolate to reduce spread and also gather information about other close contacts that may have been exposed by that person. Those other contacts can then be called to advise them to monitor symptoms and/or quarantine for a period of days to ensure they don’t inadvertently spread the virus to other people.
“Those are the people we really worry about because it means they likely aren’t taking steps they need to protect themselves,” Box said. “I cannot stress enough how invaluable contact tracing is.”
Holcomb and Box both agreed that while Indiana is facing some new challenges recently, the changes it’s making by pausing reopening, instituting a statewide mask mandate and keeping up efforts to test and trace Hoosiers are meant to keep the situation from spiraling into worse conditions.
This week, nationwide infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said the Midwest, including Indiana, might be poised to be the next region to surge. Holcomb and Box said the measures the state has been taking are meant to prevent that from coming to fruition.
Holcomb said by the time the state would start seeing hospitalization or death rates rising, it would be too late to react, because that would mean the virus has already spread widely in the community.
“We’re trying to keep this at a manageable level and smartly, safely reopen,” Holcomb said.