La PORTE — More Indiana businesses and attractions are opening this weekend, but La Porte County government buildings won’t be among them.
On Wednesday, the La Porte County Board of Commissioners approved a three-stage plan to reopen county facilities which have been closed to the public since early March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the proposed timetable – devised by a committee of senior county officials, chaired by Judge Greta Stirling Friedman – the county will continue its current coronavirus operations policy, which allows only essential employees to work inside county facilities, through June 1.
The county will then enter a second phase, in which most nonessential employees will gradually return to their offices, though the buildings will remain closed to the public.
Beginning June 15, the county will initiate the third and final phase of the plan, which will open county facilities by appointment only.
Before entering buildings, members of the public will have to clear a COVID-19 screening, which will include a questionnaire and temperature check.
Visitors will be required to wear a face mask while inside county buildings – the county will provide masks to those who do not have one at the time of their visit.
The proposed timetable will be presented to the County Council for its approval as well.
As the majority of Indiana enters Stage 3 of the reopening plan, Gov. Eric Holcomb is directing flags statewide to be flown at half-staff to honor victims of the novel coronavirus. Holcomb asked businesses and residents to lower flags all weekend through sunset on May 24.
Movie theaters and public playgrounds will remain closed in Indiana for at least three more weeks under revisions to the reopening plan signed by Holcomb on Thursday.
The new order, in effect through June 13, allows social gatherings of up to 100 people and retail stores and malls to operate at 75 percent capacity. Gatherings had been limited to 25 people and stores to 50 percent capacity under the first easing of restrictions that took effect May 4.
Gyms, fitness centers, community pools and campgrounds will be allowed to open under rules limiting the number of people, and for distancing and cleaning.
“We continue to remain vigilant about protecting Hoosiers’ health while taking responsible steps to further open our state’s economy,” Holcomb said.
The new order continues to limit restaurants to 50 percent capacity in dining rooms, and summer youth camps can’t open until at least June 1. School buildings and grounds remain closed, as do casinos, and bars and nightclubs that don’t serve food.
Tougher local restrictions are still being allowed, with the new steps not taking effect until at least June 1 in Indianapolis, Lake County and Cass County.
While businesses slowly reopen, the financial hit will likely continue.
Indiana’s unemployment rate hit 16.9 percent for April with more than five times as many people jobless than before widespread business closures started.
The Indiana jobless rate is higher than the 14.7 percent national rate; and April’s mark was much worse than the state’s peak unemployment rate of 11 percent in 2010 during the last recession, according to federal statistics.
The report showed about 546,000 people unemployed in Indiana. That’s up from just less than 100,000 unemployed in the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics survey conducted in March, when the jobless rate was 3 percent.
Indiana’s private sector employment fell by 380,500 workers from March, the state Department of Workforce Development said. The hardest-hit sectors were leisure and hospitality, with 116,000 job losses; and manufacturing, which lost about 78,000 jobs.
Holcomb on Friday announced he has asked the State Budget Agency to reduce state agency appropriations by 15 percent for Fiscal Year 2021 because of the sharp drop in revenues reported for April and to prepare for a continued decline in state revenue.
“This is the first of what is likely to be a number of steps we’ll take to rein in state spending,” Holcomb said.
He also said the state would not move forward or put on hold several projects, including $291 million in capital projects; $65 million in Next Level Trails grants; and $110 million of deferred maintenance projects, including $70 million for state parks.
No cuts to school or university funding have been announced, although those areas saw significant cuts during the last recession.