INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — More than half a million people in Indiana have applied for unemployment benefits over the past five weeks as job losses mounted because of the coronavirus pandemic, and state officials are working to possibly ease some business restrictions meant to slow the spread of the disease.
The state’s COVID-19 death toll topped 700 people on Thursday, with 45 new fatalities. Indiana University researchers also announced a statewide study aimed at determining how widely the coronavirus has been spread.
Indiana had about 75,000 new jobless claims filed last week, federal officials said Thursday. While that’s down from the more than 110,000 claims filed in each of the three previous weeks, the state was typically receiving fewer than 3,000 new claims a week before widespread business shutdowns started in mid-March.
Indiana has totaled about 515,000 jobless claims during the five-week period.
Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb has said he might ease the business and travel restrictions next week that were put in place under the March 25 statewide stay-at-home order. Those modifications could vary across Indiana, and major changes will be done in collaboration with neighboring states, Holcomb said.
Indianapolis has had about a third of the state’s COVID-19 deaths. Mayor Joe Hogsett said Thursday that some business leaders were worried about lifting restrictions too soon and causing renewed outbreaks.
“People, naturally, become impatient. But it would be extraordinarily dangerous, in my opinion, if we made the mistake of essentially trying to return to a complete sense of normalcy too quickly,” Hogsett said.
STATEWIDE INFECTION STUDY
An Indiana University project announced Thursday intends to take nasal swaps and blood samples for coronavirus testing from at least 5,000 people ages 12 and older selected at random from around the state.
The testing will begin Saturday and researchers could give a preliminary report to state officials within about a week, said Nir Menachemi, a professor at IU’s Fairbanks School of Public Health. Indiana’s current testing has largely focused on those who are seriously ill or health-care workers, leading to a lack of information on the overall coronavirus spread, he said.
“If we are only testing people with the most serious symptoms, it seems like we’re only looking at the tip of the iceberg,” Menachemi said. “What our study allows us to do is look below the water and see the entire iceberg and try to get a sense of how large it is and how it is affecting different communities.”
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness. Although state health officials have been updating the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases every day, the actual number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested and studies suggest people can be infected without feeling sick.
VIRUS DEATHS MOUNT
More than half of the state’s newly recorded COVID-19 deaths occurred Tuesday or Wednesday, but others happened as far back as April 6, according to the State Department of Health.
Indiana’s death toll of 706 recorded since March 15 could jump by several dozen on Friday because state officials plan to start including deaths that doctors blame on COVID-19 but weren’t confirmed through testing.
CASS COUNTY OUTBREAK
Tests have confirmed that there have been nearly 200 COVID-19 infections in northern Indiana’s Cass County. Officials say about three-quarters of those cases were in employees of a Tyson Fresh Meats plant in Logansport that the company said Wednesday would be temporarily closed.
Cass County has had only one coronavirus death, but its per-capita infection rate is the second highest among Indiana’s 92 counties. It trails only southeastern Indiana’s Decatur County, which is among a cluster of rural counties that has faced numerous deaths in recent weeks.
Tyson and Cass County health officials plan to test the plant’s 2,200 employees for the disease.
“We’re aware that while employees are practicing protective measures at work, they may not be practicing it at home, which is critical to help stop overall community spread,” Dr. Dori Ditty, the county health officer, said in a statement.