Indiana sees 1st coronavirus death as restrictions added
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana officials cracked down further on public activities Monday as the state reported its first death linked to the coronavirus pandemic.
Gov. Eric Holcomb called for the closing of all restaurants, nightclubs and bars as of Tuesday to help stem the spread of the virus, a step that followed each of Indiana’s neighboring states doing the same in recent days. Nearly all of Indiana’s school districts have closed and Indianapolis health officials ordered the closing of all movie theaters, along with live entertainment, recreation and exercise facilities until at least April 6.
The person who died at a Community Health Network hospital Monday was an Indianapolis resident over 60 who suffered from other medical problems as well as COVID-19, officials said.
Holcomb expressed sympathy at a Statehouse news conference and said it underlined the seriousness of the illness.
“To those who think that we may be overreacting, I can assure that you we are not,” Holcomb said. “Indiana is under a public health emergency. We are, no mistake about it, at war with COVID-19.”
Tests have confirmed 24 COVID-19 illnesses in 13 Indiana counties, according to the state health department.
State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box said Indianapolis is showing “community spread” of the illness with confirmed cases that cannot be traced back to the person traveling to affected countries or outside the state.
Box urged all residents to simply “stay home” to slow the spread of the virus. The state health department has received more test kits, but Box said testing would be largely reserved for the severely ill, those living in long-term care facilities and health workers.
Indiana’s schools have largely closed to students as 273 public school districts shut down or switched to online classwork, according to the governor’s office. The state education department is working with the 16 others to determine their next steps.
Holcomb last week approved allowing schools to cancel 20 days without having to make them up later.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.
Several Community hospital staffers are in quarantine because they were exposed to the patient who died, said Dr. Ram Yeleti, Indianapolis-based Community Health Network’s chief physician executive.
Indiana’s hospitals and surgery centers are being asked to cancel or postpone elective and non-urgent surgical procedures to leave hospital beds and equipment such as ventilators available for COVID-19 patients.
“We’re doing everything we can, but I’m still concerned that in the next couple of weeks all the hospitals in the state won’t have enough beds or enough ICU capability,” Yelti said.
Indiana will adhere to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation to limit large events and mass gatherings to 50 people, according to the governor’s office. Holcomb last week discouraged non-essential gatherings of more than 250 people. Restaurants are being asked to only provide drive-through or delivery services.
Witham Health Services provided a drive-thru screening center Monday in the Indianapolis suburb of Whitestown, where staffers checked the temperatures of people and tested them for the flu and other viruses in an attempt to rule out a COVID-19 illness.
Nurse Rebecca Bradley, who is clinical director of Witham’s emergency departments, said many people are worried about spreading the virus.
“They’re doing the right thing by trying to find out what their symptoms mean and what that means for themselves, their families and the community,” Bradley said.
Colleges across the state — including Indiana, Purdue and Ivy Tech — have extended spring breaks and temporarily canceled classroom instruction.
Indiana and Purdue universities are going all online for coursework for rest of this semester and IU is closing most residence halls. IU officials planned to resume classes April 6.
“All of us regret deeply that we have to take these actions,” IU President Michael McRobbie said in a message on the university’s website. “Yet they are absolutely necessary, and we are asking all individuals to make deep sacrifices for the good of those in our community who are most vulnerable to the threat of infection.”
Associated Press photographer Darron Cummings contributed to this story.
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