INDIANAPOLIS — After previously stating he would sign a new executive order loosening gathering size restrictions in counties on Sunday, Gov. Eric Holcomb jumped his own deadline and issued that new order late Thursday.
The new rules took effect Monday and run through the end of February.
Holcomb signed Executive Order 21-02 to adjust the targeted restrictions for counties that have high levels of COVID-19 and also issued a second order extending the public health emergency an additional 30 days.
The main change, which Holcomb announced on Wednesday, is that gathering sizes would change from a hard head count of people to a percentage of a venue’s total capacity, which will allow larger venues with more space to host more people than they had previously.
The gathering size limitations remain tied to a county’s color-coded rating via the Indiana State Department of Health, with lower percentages for counties in red and orange for high spread of COVID-19, an improved restriction for those in yellow for moderate spread and no limitation for counties able to make it to blue for low spread, although zero of Indiana’s 92 counties have been in blue rating since early November.
The changes come amid substantial positive indicators the state is seeing at the moment, with falling case counts, falling positivity rates, falling hospital admissions and falling daily death counts. Numbers haven’t improved to where they were in September before the surge that dominated the last three months of 2020 but they’re trending in the right direction lately and making good ground.
“We are not out of the woods. The steps we have been taking to reduce the spread must continue, especially wearing a face covering and maintaining social distancing,” Holcomb said. “As we’ve experienced before, trends that look promising can shift very quickly, and we will continue to monitor what is happening with positivity, deaths, and cases per capita, as we have done since the start of the pandemic.”
As of last week’s update from the state, Whitley County was the only county in the northern 2/3rds of the state that still had a red designation for COVID activity — one of only five counties total. Whitley County also recorded the highest positivity rate in the state, but continues to have the lowest total number of deaths of all northeast Indiana counties.
However, at the start of the week Whitley County began to see some improvement, with the positivity rate dropping to 15.13% on Sunday afternoon and 453 cases per 100,000 residents. The state’s cutoff to drop into the orange category is below 15% and 200 people per 100,000.
Whitley County had the lowest daily number of new cases on Sunday with 12. The last time Whitley County had less than 12 new cases in a day was Dec. 26 when there were eight.
Additionally, Whitley County has not had a new death since Jan. 20, according to the latest data from the state.
Gathering sizes are still technically limited to 25 people for counties in red, 50 people for those in orange, 100 for counties in yellow and 250 for counties in blue, but the changes allow venues or event organizers to submit a written safety plan to the local county health department for review that can allow them to increase that cap to a percentage of the sites total capacity.
With an approved safety plan, counties in red and orange can host events capped at 25% of a venue’s total capacity. Those in yellow can go up to 50% capacity and if a county reaches blue, it can host events up to 100% of normal capacity.
Counties have to reach and stay in a lower color grade for two consecutive weeks before becoming eligible for the new limitations, which is unchanged from Holcomb’s previous orders.
Holcomb didn’t make other changes to his executive order, which still states that face coverings are required for all Hoosiers. Businesses of all types are required to place clearly visible signs at their public and employee entrances notifying all that face coverings are required.
All customers in restaurants and bars are required to be seated. Tables, counters, or other seating arrangements must be spaced 6 feet apart.
Local governments may impose more restrictive guidelines if they choose.