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White House Task Force praises, recommends tougher measures for Indiana

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The White House Coronavirus Task Force has both praise for Indiana’s leaders and recommendations to get tougher.

The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis released eight weeks of previously private reports Monday morning. They provide a new look at how the Task Force has helped shape state and local guidelines on the virus and three things they still want Indiana to do to fight COVID-19.

The reports pick up in on June 29 as Indiana was nearing the final stage of reopening. White House officials gave their blessing, along with a recommendation to have Hoosiers wear face masks outside their homes.

One week later, on July 5, the Task Force praised Indiana for pausing its reopening and suggested a mask mandate for Marion County. It’s a mandate Mayor Joe Hogsett had already announced would go into effect on July 9.

On July 14, Indiana moved into the the “Yellow Zone” because of rising cases and positivity rates. For the first time, federal officials suggested that Indiana impose a statewide mask mandate.

Gov. Eric Holcomb would make that announcement one week later.

The Task Force report from July 26 is the first to urge Indiana to put new restrictions in place: close all bars statewide, limit indoor seating at restaurants to 25 percent capacity and keep social gatherings to fewer than 10 people. Those restrictions have not been put into place by Gov. Holcomb.

The Aug. 2 report warns of “significant community spread through Indiana in metro areas and their surrounding counties, as well as some rural counties.”

One week later, on Aug. 9, the task force said Indianapolis is at a high plateau for cases and calls the virus widespread through the state. It recommends the statewide mask mandate remain in place for another 30 days and a continuation of Stage 4.5 at least until August 27.

Gov. Holcomb has since extended both the mask mandate and Phase 4.5 into September. The mask mandate in Marion County is until further notice.

The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis is led by Democrats which point out contradictions between the Task Force recommendations and statements from President Donald Trump which paint a rosier picture.

The Subcommittee includes Indiana Republican Congresswoman Jackie Walorski, who declined comment Monday.

The Marion County Public Health Department released this statement: “Dr. Caine has not yet been able to fully review the report, but is spending each day working to protect residents in our community from the spread of COVID-19.”

The Indiana State Department of Health also declined comment but released this statement:

The Indiana Department of Health has partnered with state, local and federal agencies, as well as private partners, to increase testing and swiftly investigate and mitigate outbreaks throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, including by using strike teams to respond on-site at long-term care facilities and congregate living settings, for example, since nearly the beginning of the pandemic.

We have tested thousands of long-term care residents and have tested staff twice in addition to providing infection control education and personal protective equipment to hundreds of facilities. Each facility is also able to conduct its own testing independent of the state’s efforts. We have hosted our own testing operations throughout the state and partnered with OptumServe to significantly increase testing around the state that is open to all Hoosiers. In addition, we have issued $100,000 grants to local health departments to add testing capacity in nearly 100 communities, with the first local testing sites opening tomorrow.

We also launched a centralized contact tracing operation and have hired nearly 700 contact tracers, who are supplemented by the 300 local contract tracers currently in place around the state. The state provides continuously updated guidance to help residents, schools, businesses, and other organizations know what steps to take regarding quarantining and isolation. As you are aware, the governor issued a statewide mask mandate in July, and Indiana continues to operate with restrictions on the sizes of gatherings while stressing social distancing and responding to contact tracers.

The state considers guiding principles, specific metrics and input, such as the report you cited, from stakeholders and local, state and national partners when considering appropriate steps in response to the pandemic.