Indiana schools will be allowed to close for up to 20 days this school year without penalties, the governor’s office announced Thursday among steps toward helping stem the coronavirus spread.
Gov. Eric Holcomb is also discouraging non-essential gatherings of more than 250 people in sites such as churches, stadiums, conference rooms and auditoriums. The announcement came as the NCAA and the Big Ten called off basketball tournament games scheduled for Indianapolis and a worker at Fiat Chrysler’s transmission factory in Kokomo tested positive for the coronavirus.
The state's health department also reported another confirmed COVID-19 illness, giving Indiana 12 cases out of 64 people tested.
More than a dozen colleges across the state — including Indiana, Purdue and Ivy Tech — are taking steps such as extending spring breaks and temporarily canceling classroom instruction. Nearly all of Indiana's K-12 schools have remained open, but Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett said Thursday that all Marion County public and charter schools will close for three weeks beginning Monday. They will reopen April 6.
The governor’s office said schools should be planning for broader closures, including moving classes online and remote classroom options. School districts can seek a 20-day waiver of the state’s required 180 instructional days for the rest of the current school year.
“I fully expect there will be additional actions warranted in the coming days,” Holcomb said in a statement. “Just as we have since the beginning of the year, we are working with partners at all levels to secure all necessary resources for any escalation of this virus.”
Fiat Chrysler said the Kokomo factory was still operating Thursday. The sick employee’s work area was disinfected and co-workers who came in direct contact with him were quarantined at home. It’s the first known case of coronavirus in a U.S. auto factory.
Also Thursday, the Indiana High School Athletic Association announced boys basketball regional games on Saturday will be played before limited audiences, with each team allowed no more than 75 admissions.
The loss of the Big Ten and NCAA tournament games in Indianapolis will hit the city hard. The NCAA games were expected to draw some 42,000 people to the city and generate about $20 million in revenue for local businesses, according to the tourism group Visit Indy.
Jim Dora Jr., president of General Hotels Corp., which manages several Indianapolis hotels, said that lost business can’t be replaced.
“My biggest concern is for my associates and for the associates in every business, restaurant, hotel in the area — the entire supply chain is basically all going to come to a stop,” Dora told the Indianapolis Business Journal.
The World Health Organization has declared a coronavirus pandemic.
For most, the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and a cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover.
According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness get better in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.
The Indianapolis Athletic Club Foundation has canceled the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Tent Party that was set for Friday and the Shamrock Run Walk scheduled for Saturday.
This year’s legislative session ended Thursday with lawmakers taking no action related to the virus. Republican leaders said the governor’s office believed it had all the necessary authority to act.
Holcomb last spoke publicly about the virus situation on Friday when health officials announced the state’s first confirmed COVID-19 illness.
Democratic legislative leaders said Holcomb should be more visible in providing updates and information on topics such as the availability of testing kits.
“Communication is going to be so important on this issue,” said Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane of Anderson. “The clearer it can be made as to here’s what we’re doing as state, here’s how you should react as a citizen to this, the better off we’re going to be.”