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INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — In a news conference Wednesday, Gov. Eric Holcomb says Hoosiers are not out of the woods when it comes to fighting the coronavirus.

But, he said, he is looking ahead to the day when he can reopen Indiana.

“It will be a rolling reopen. It won’t be all at once. It won’t be flipping a light switch,” Holcomb said.

The governor said the decision on when to reopen Indiana will be data-driven. He said while it feels like Indiana takes a step back each day in regard to positive cases and deaths, he reiterated the state is actually moving forward and is on the right path. When the numbers warrant, the economy will start to come to life, but at a new normal.

“We want to make sure that employees have a very high level of confidence about the workplace. We’re going to be looking at a steady, sustained decline in those numbers. We’ll be looking at our supply chain. Is it sufficient?” Holcomb said.

Holcomb also said he has been talking to Kentucky, Ohio, Illinois and other nearby states on when to reopen. He wants to make sure the decision moves the Midwest forward instead of setting the region back.

“I want to make sure that we all know, because we are neighborly and share a border, and for every action, sometimes there’s an equal or greater reaction. And so, we don’t want to, we’re not going to act alone in this. We are all in this together,” Holcomb said.

The governor said he expects to unveil more details about a reopening plan on Monday.

President Donald Trump has said he will likely talk about reopening plans with governors on Thursday.

Indiana coronavirus timeline

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Hoosiers are set to get some much-needed relief as COVID-19 stimulus checks are starting to hit bank accounts from the federal government.

But, there are questions. Many people are wondering when they will get their check.

News 8’s Jenny Dreasler sat down with an expert to ask the most frequently asked questions about the stimulus checks. Watch the video for more details.

Indiana coronavirus timeline

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – It’s a heartbreaking reality all too many families can relate to — a loved one lost to COVID-19.

As of Wednesday evening, 203 Hoosiers have died from coronavirus. But as those families know, the people they lost are more than just a number.

The faces of this pandemic are your mother, a dad, or a brother. The people you love.

Affectionately known as ‘Uncle Al,’ Austin Evans, 67, was everyone’s right hand man. He was one of the first Hoosiers to die from COVID-19.

Loved ones called him a family man who knew no stranger and made everyone feel seen.

His niece Kelli knew that better than anyone.

“He had a special name for me every time I seen him since I was a little girl he would say ‘Kellerson, Kellerson and…’ and I would have to say the last Kellerson. He picked me up until…And that was our greeting for each other,” said Kelli Evans.

But it’s when he got sick that smiling face began to fade.

His family says he first started feeling sick about a month ago.

His brother, Ronnie, said he was at church when he started not to feel well.

His family said he spiked a 103 fever and had body aches.

“He would get sick about three or four times. Especially during this time of year. And plus he was asthmatic. So I didn’t think it was COVID virus until he told me what his temperature was running,” said his brother, Ronnie Evans.

Austin was admitted to St. Francis Hospital just south of Indy. He required intensive care and was put on a ventilator. His condition rapidly deteriorated.

He died just days later on March 26.

“This is not a joke, my brother just a month ago was sitting down talking to, laughing with me and now he’s gone,” said Ronnie.

Austin was a Purdue grad who had hopes his smile would land him on television.

Now he’s on TV, for a very different reason.

“He’s the face of this (pandemic) because we can’t go to the hospitals. We can’t have proper funerals. We can’t sit next to them and hold their hand as they are going through this.They have to go through this by themselves,” said Kelli Evans.

If there’s anything his family wants others to know, it’s this: “We’ve never seen anything like this. We need to take it seriously and you don’t want it to hit home. You don’t want it to hit home to where you have to be talking about it like I am. Stay at home.”

Since the Evans family didn’t get to have a funeral, they plan to hold a public YouTube memorial for Austin in the coming weeks.

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — An Indianapolis costume designer known for bringing elaborate characters to life is now trying to help save lives by turning her talents to making masks.

Jess West is known for making some of the best costumes in the city, but these days, she’s using her talents for a different audience.

“I was supposed to travel across from Europe to the Caribbean for seven months, doing my dream job on a boat, and that didn’t happen,” said West, the owner of Jess West Costumes.

West was supposed to be starting next week as Cirque Du Soleil’s head wardrobe and costume tech for their cruise shows.

But the coronavirus pandemic changed her plans.

“I was really sad for about a week and I thought, ‘What can I do to make a change?’ And I have a talent sewing and making things. I’ve also run a business on my own for x amount of time. So I decided to start making these masks,” said West.

Since West was out of work herself, she decided to turn her dream job into one that helps others.

She hired 12 other people who have also been recently laid off to start a new adventure making COVID-19 masks. It’s called the Masked Hope Collection.

“Now, I have been able to create jobs for a lot of people that I know that were in restaurants or laid off of their jobs. They are coming in with me. And they are helping me. I’m teaching them some new skills how to make masks, and we are working together to do that,” said West.

West has made more than 1,000 masks in the last two weeks, choosing from 60 different patterns, giving each mask a unique feel for each person who buys one.

“I wanted to make them more inviting. I wanted people to want to wear them,” said West.

Masks start at $18. She is also making masks for businesses that feature their logos.

West says for each mask purchased, part of the proceeds will benefit local hospitals and those in need. She hopes each piece made will also bring peace of mind.

“It feels really good. It feels really good knowing that I have had a skill since I was a little girl that’s kind of like my super power, and now I’m have to help people,” said West.

West says these are not N95 masks and they are not medical-grade, but they provide some form of protection.

Gov Holcomb says religious services not essential during COVID-19 pandemic

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Governor Eric Holcomb issued a warning to churches ahead of Passover and Easter: Do not hold in-person services.

This comes after police cited church leaders in Hammond, Indiana, for violating the “stay at home” order Sunday with a gathering.

Gov. Holcomb was adamant during his daily virtual news conference Monday that even though this is considered Holy Week for many Christians, everyone still needs to abide by the order to avoid gatherings and hunker down.

“As tough as this week — and there are other weeks, very religiously speaking, important weeks for other faiths throughout the year — this disease does not care. This disease will prey on the vulnerable. This disease will prey on large gatherings. We have it in us to prevent that,” said Holcomb.

Gov. Holcomb wasn’t not mincing words when he answered News 8’s Jenny Dreasler’s question during his daily new conference about churches violating his stay-at-home order.

Dreasler asked, “Over the weekend, a church in Hammond was cited for violating your stay-at-home order. More than 30 people were inside. But church leaders argued they were essential. This is Holy Week in the Christian churches. States like Florida and Texas have declared religious services essential. Are you considering a change to the state’s orders to allow services this weekend? What is your message to pastors statewide?”

Gov. Holcomb said he’s not considering changing his executive order, and that religious services will not be labeled essential.

His message to pastors across the state was one of gratitude in transitioning to virtual services.

“This past Palm Sunday, those palm branches symbolized peace and victory as Jesus was entering Jerusalem and thrown at his feet. We will see victory. We will see peace when we, too, complete our journey though this,” said Holcomb.

This all comes after a Church of Christ in Hammond held services Sunday.

According to police reports and Hammond’s mayor, more than 30 people were in attendance. Church elders argued they were considered essential, but police issued a citation for violating the governor’s order.

“Many of us are dependent on the church as a body, not as a building. So please, I just, please, we are putting out this guidance for all of our goods,” said Holcomb.

As far as what families can do for an Easter meal this weekend, State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box urged families not to have big gatherings and to continue social distance.

“My family is asking the same thing. We will not be seeing my father, who is 88 years old, and we will not be seeing some of my other family members that have asthma and other underlying health conditions. We may get together as a very small nuclear family and have dinner together, but we do a good job social distancing even then,” said Box.

Health officials reiterated during the news conference that the quicker Hoosiers hunker down, the quicker we can start the process of getting back to normal.

Carmel, Indiana, nurse on a ventilator after COVID-19 diagnosis

CARMEL, Ind. (WISH) – A Carmel nurse is on a ventilator, fighting for her life after contracting COVID-19.

Lesley Vogel, 60, is at Ascension St. Vincent Carmel.

Her daughters, Carolina and Meredith, told News 8 they can’t even visit their mother because of strict visiting restrictions due to the new virus.

“It’s been pretty scary. I live with her, so I’ve been with her through the whole process of her being sick,” said Meredith Vogel.

Lesley Vogel is a nurse for St. Vincent’s call transfer center. She has been working there for about a year.

Her daughters told News 8 she had mentioned being glad to be working the phones and not necessarily on the front lines in order to avoid exposure. But now she’s fighting for her life at Ascension St. Vincent Carmel.

“Those were her main symptoms. The mild cough, shortness of breath, temperature. She just didn’t feel great. She was saying she felt poorly,” said Carolina Vogel.

Carolina says it all started a week ago. Her mom complained about not feeling well. So she went to get a COVID-19 test through Eli Lilly’s drive-up testing.

On Saturday, Vogel still not feeling well, went to a neighborhood hospital.

Doctors saw signs of pneumonia and admitted her to Ascension St. Vincent Carmel Saturday night.

Less than 24 hours later, Vogel’s condition had rapidly deteriorated. She was intubated, sedated, and put on a ventilator.

“Now, I can’t even talk to her. So it’s really scary and it’s really worrisome,” said Meredith Vogel.

Even more terrifying, the COVID-19 test didn’t come back positive until Monday, 48 hours after she had been admitted.

“So by that time, she didn’t even know she is COVID positive for sure. Because they came in after she was intubated,” said Carolina Vogel.

Now, the girls hope by sharing their story more people will take social distancing to heart.

“I didn’t think that it would happen to us. But now that it has, I know that it could happen to truly anybody. So I think it’s just important for everyone to be smart and stay home,” said Meredith Vogel.

The girls say doctors give them updates over the phone once a day and they hope to have their mom off the ventilator in two weeks. That’s an amount of time they hope will be enough for their mother’s lungs to heal.

Coronavirus timeline in Indiana

Coronavirus links

Westfield mayor: Don’t call police with social distancing concerns

WESTFIELD, Ind. (WISH) — This Hamilton County city’s mayor is stepping up and putting his foot down, saying Westfield Police Department will not be enforcing social distancing guidelines

Mayor Andy Cook says police have “more important things to do.” The reason behind his move comes after residents complained to police.

“They were calling the cops and wanting them to do something about it and they have a lot more important things to do,” said Cook. 

State officials have asked people to call police with concerns about improper social distancing or the violation of “essential businesses” orders from Gov. Eric Holcomb.

Cook says his office has gotten some bizarre requests over the past week. Many complaints came in on Facebook, but some people in Westfield even called police dispatch to complain people were hoarding toilet paper at the grocery store.

He says others demanded Westfield police get involved when they believed social distancing requirements weren’t being met and they wanted to see something done.

The mayor posted this statement to social media: “The importance of our public safety teams is important now more than ever. As we navigate this new and temporary “normal,” I want to be clear, Westfield Police officers enforce laws, not social distancing guidelines or grocery store purchasing limits. It is my expectation that, in this crisis, we all work together to minimize the threat of exposure and follow the rules. We CANNOT have our police officers or firefighters exposed to the coronavirus. We need them saving lives and enforcing laws. If you have an issue at a particular store or situation, I would suggest you kindly speak to the store management or those involved and take your business elsewhere. There are extraordinary time. I ask for your patience and support.”

Cook says the police force is busy focusing on other issues. He says domestic violence has gone up unfortunately during the “stay at home” order and police need to focus on matters such as that.

“I have got to protect them (police officers). I can’t have them unnecessarily mingling with the public, so to speak, and I don’t mean that in a bad term. But look, they are our first responders,” said Cook.

He had some advice for people if they get frustrated.

“I think, with kindness, people can take care of those things, and you do it kindly but you also do it with your dollar. Hey, if that store isn’t doing it right, then go some place else,” said Cook.

The mayor says since he put out the message, the calls to police have decreased but he still encourages everybody to use common sense and just be patient.

Indiana coronavirus timeline

Greenfield, Indiana, kids create Puzzle Piece Theatre to do spring play

GREENFIELD, Ind. (WISH) — COVID-19 has forced a Greenfield theater group to postpone the spring play.

The group’s director came up with a clever way to keep the kids and the production going.

KidsPlay Director Christine Schaefer knew the kids would be disappointed when they couldn’t do the spring play so she improvised. With a new way of acting she calls Puzzle Piece Theatre.

The play, ”Sherlock Holmes Solves a Mystery,” was filmed on cellphones instead of acted out on a stage.

“It left such a big hole in all of our lives that we needed to come up with something to fill it,” said Schaefer.

Schaefer says her group of 30 kids normally have two plays a year.

“They sent in audition forms and I filled the parts, and they had about three days to get all their filming done,” said Schaefer.

The kids, including seventh-grader Madison Raisor, who are stuck at home rose to the challenge and immediately started filming their parts. Raisor plays Lady Agatha, a complex character with a British accent..

Because the children are usually provided with costumes, the kids had to come up with them on their own. Kids took the change of pace in stride.

“It was upsetting at first because it was like, ‘Oh, we can’t do our show right now,’ But I was really happy because it gives us like more practice and it’s really fun for us. It really was fun,” said Raisor.

Once the kids filmed their own parts, they emailed them to Schaefer, and she edited them together using iMovie.

“What they can find to use at home to use as a prop or use as a costume, it’s just really been fun watching what they put together,” said Schaefer.

While the play turned out well, students hope they eventually get back on stage, but say the Puzzle Piece Theatre was a fun way to keep active during quarantine.

“I know it’s going to take a while. I hope we still do this Puzzle Piece Theatre, but I really hope we can do our shows soon,” said Raisor.

Schaefer says this isn’t the end of the Puzzle Piece Theatre. She says she will continue to do this during the quarantine and their next play is set to be released sometime in the next week.

Watch the “Sherlock Holmes” play online.

Radio station lifting spirits with Christmas music

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A local radio station is looking to spread some holiday cheer during.

The calendar says March 25, but turn on your radio Wednesday night and it will sound like December 25.

B105.7 is playing Christmas music Wednesday evening from 6 p.m. until midnight. The station decided to play all Christmas music Wednesday night as a gift to everyone dealing with the stress of the coronavirus pandemic.

The music will continue this weekend. It starts at 5 p.m. Friday and goes until midnight on Sunday.

Watch the video for more information.

Lupus drug shortage due to COVID-19

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Some Hoosiers living with lupus are worried they won’t be able to get the drug they need after President Trump touted it as a treatment for coronavirus.

The Food and Drug Administration hasn’t even approved hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19, but that hasn’t stopped people from hoarding it and causing a shortage for those who need it most.

“I have about two weeks’ worth yet, but I have been off of it for five days,” said Hoosier Suzi Swinehart.

Swinehart depends on her medicine. She’s been battling lupus since 2001.

That battle has put her in and out of the hospital. It got even harder this week when she got a text message from her pharmacy saying the drug she takes to treat her lupus. hydroxychloroquine, was out.

“I’m sure I’ll just have more and more of the joint inflammation. Lupus just causes a lot of inflammation for me. It affects my joints, my kidneys, my skin. I have central nervous system effects. I’ve had a couple strokes,” said Swinehart.

Swinehart isn’t alone.

According to the Indiana chapter of the Lupus Foundation of America, many other lupus patients have been missing out on getting their medicine after it was announced hydroxychloroquine could be a potential treatment for COVID-19.

“We hear that nursing homes are requesting it, and doctors are requesting it. But doctors are also filling requests and sending prescriptions in for patients who do not have COVID-19, they just want to take it as a precautionary measure,” said Lisa Kelly, the executive director of the Indiana Chapter of the Lupus Foundation of America.

Kelly says hydroxychloroquine is already hard to come by.

That’s why the Lupus Foundation sent letters to Vice President Mike Pence and Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb this week, urging them to help keep the drug available to the 36,000 Hoosiers with lupus who need it most.

“I had no idea. Who could fathom that this would affect the patients I care about and love, that need these prescriptions, every day to survive?” said Kelly.

In the meantime, Swinehart just hopes she can get her full supply of medicine and if it works for COVID-19 patients, there is enough to go around.

“People need to be responsible; doctors need to be responsible and not just prescribe this out and considering the effects it has on people like me, with lupus,” said Swinehart.

Kelly says she has not heard back from Holcomb or Pence.