INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) — Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb announced the state will be taking more extreme measures to stop the spread of the new coronavirus.
Holcomb announced Thursday he's signed executive orders that will extend the closure of schools, provide economic relief and protections for individuals and businesses, and expand unemployment insurance benefits for those impacted by job loss.
All K-12 public schools will remain closed until at least May 1. Holcomb also ordered all non-public schools to close. The date for closure could be extended through the academic year.
The governor was surrounded by a stage full of government leaders at a news conference Wednesday. Everyone looked grim. Holcomb admitted he hasn’t slept much.
“I talk to Hoosiers from border to border, from different walks of life. This has rocked their world, understandably,” he said.
Overnight, the number of Hoosiers diagnosed with the COVID-19 virus increased significantly.
“I expect the numbers to go up,” said state health commissioner Dr. Kris Box. “I don’t want people to be panicked about it, but looking at the numbers in Marion County, that is concerning to me."
Thursday, Marion County had eight confirmed cases of coronavirus. Box said expanded testing should begin over the weekend. That would likely identify more cases.
The governor’s actions to slow the spread of COVID-19 fill three pages. They relax regulations for people filing for unemployment, put residential evictions and foreclosure actions on hold, postpone the state income tax deadline a month to May 15 and waive some late fees at the BMV.
The biggest impact is on Indiana’s public schools. The governor ordered them closed until May 1 and maybe longer.
“As we get nearer to May 1, we may have to close them permanently, but we will make that call down the road,” Holcomb said.
How will students learn? No one is sure. While some school districts are already implementing e-Learning, the Indiana Department of Education estimates at least half of the state's school districts don’t have enough computers for students to learn at home and not all families have internet connections.
"There is a gap," said Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick. “I’m not going to pretend there is not one. But that is where schools will have to make that difficult decision. Do they have capacity as a community to run e-Learning or do they have to close the door or not run e-Learning.”
And then what? Will students have to repeat the school year? McCormick said that’s not been decided.
But if students return this school this year, they won’t be cramming for standardized tests. The governor canceled, IREAD, ILEARN and ISTEP and all other required exams.
Tax deadline pushed back and more orders
The state will also delay income tax payments until July 15 instead of the normal April 15. Penalties for property taxes paid after the May 11 due date will be waived for 60 days.
Holcomb also mandated utility companies cannot cut off service to any customer during the public health emergency.
All public housing authorities are being asked to extend deadlines for housing assistance recipients.
Those both renting and owning homes should continue to pay rent and mortgage payments, but no eviction proceedings or foreclosure actions will occur for as long as the health emergency lasts.
Hoosiers who are enrolled in the Healthy Indiana Plan or the Children's Health Insurance Program will not be required to pay monthly premiums during this time. The Family and Social Services Administration will also seek a federal waiver to extend renewals for Hoosiers who currently receive insurance through HIP or Medicaid.
For a complete list of executive actions Holcomb took in response to the coronavirus pandemic, visit in.gov.
The governor's office said testing continues to increase each day. Eli Lilly and company and one other lab have started testing this week.
"No one should be caught off guard that the number of positive cases will increase," Dr. Kris Box, state health commissioner, said. "This will help us know where community spread is occurring in Indiana and help us mobilize resources in affected areas."