Marion County imposes more stringent COVID-19 restrictions as numbers rise

(WTTV) — Facing a renewed surge of COVID-19, Mayor Joe Hogsett and Marion County Public Health Department Director Dr. Virginia Caine outlined their most stringent restrictions since the pandemic began.

Hogsett said the current increase in cases represented a fundamental shift from public spread to spread of the coronavirus at private events and homes.

Indicators of community spread include events and gatherings indoors, coworkers who return to work, weddings and funerals.

“Social gatherings at your house are just as dangerous [as public ones],” Hogsett said.

The public health order includes a variety of changes affecting bars, entertainment venues, restaurants, gyms and social gatherings.

In addition, Caine says all Marion County schools must go to virtual instruction no later than Nov. 30. In a statement Indianapolis Public Schools indicated it would return to remote learning beginning Nov. 23.

Here are the changes Hogsett and Caine outlined. They go into effect Monday:

  • Entertainment venues, bars limited to 25% indoor capacity, with 100% capacity allowed outside
  • For restaurants, reduced capacity indoors at 50% and 100% allowed outdoors
  • Live entertainment venues must be cleared of all patrons at 12 a.m.
  • Self-service buffets, salad bars banned
  • No karaoke allowed
  • Maximum party size reduced to 6 at bars and clubs
  • Wedding, concerts, sporting events limited to 25% capacity
  • Gyms and fitness centers at 25% capacity
  • Midnight closure time extended to all hospitality and entertainment businesses, including live entertainment
  • Religious services limited to 75% indoor capacity
  • Social gatherings limited to 25 or fewer people
  • Libraries, funeral homes, mall food courts reduced to 50% indoor capacity
  • Cultural venues, music venues, tourism sites, other non-essential businesses to 25% capacity
  • Marion County will require a negative coronavirus test within 72 hours to visit a long-term care facility
  • No later than Nov. 30, all Marion County schools will return to virtual instruction; it includes all grades K-12
  • Starting Nov. 30, extracurricular activities and sporting events can include only participants, parents or guardians and support personnel
  • School order ends January 15, 2021

Caine said the county reported more than 700 cases Wednesday. She is concerned Marion County will hit 1,000 cases in a single day, bringing the county to levels not seen since early in the pandemic.

“This is our critical point,” Caine said, imploring people to follow health and safety guidelines to avoid another shutdown or stay-at-home order.

According to Caine, the positivity rate reached 10.3% n Nov. 4. The county aims to have a positivity rate of 5% or lower. Hospitals are filling with COVID-19 patients; on Oct. 7, the county reported about 10 COVID-19 patients a day, but that has increased to 16 patients a day.

Caine said the death rate is steady and remains relatively flat.

Caine set a 13% positivity rate threshold for all schools to go virtual; while the county is below that currently, she doesn’t believe students will be safe because of the amount of community spread.

That’s the reasoning for mandating that all schools go virtual no later than Nov. 30. Caine strongly urged schools that have the capacity to go virtual right now do so.

Hogsett said this year’s holiday season will be unlike any other.

“I want to be blunt: there is no responsible way to pretend that this Thanksgiving and the ensuing holiday season that follows will in any way be normal,” Hogsett said. “I want to urge residents to scale back their Thanksgiving celebrations.”

He suggested virtual gatherings and eating outside if possible. He also recommended quarantining yourself after gatherings, a move he believes will help slow the spread.

“Deciding to do these things could truly be a life or death decision for those you love,” he said. “That’s somber, and I know it is.”