NewsHealth / April 30, 2020

Coronavirus: Indiana Hits 1,000 COVID-19 Deaths, Pence Visits Kokomo GM Plant

Article origination IPBS-RJC
Stickers on the floor of a Walmart in Indianapolis, show how far apart customers should within the store.  - Lauren Chapman/IPB News

Stickers on the floor of a Walmart in Indianapolis, show how far apart customers should within the store.

Lauren Chapman/IPB News

The Indiana State Department of Health reported 44 additional confirmed deaths on Thursday, bringing the state’s total to 1,007. The state announced more than 17,800 total confirmed cases, with nearly 95,000 Hoosiers tested.

Indiana Reports More Than 1,000 Deaths From COVID-19

Indiana reached a grim milestone as the state reported more than 1,000 confirmed deaths from COVID-19. The state’s total Thursday is at 1,007.

The Indiana State Department of Health has reported more than 300 additional deaths in the last week, though when they died may stretch back into March.

On March 16, the state reported its first confirmed COVID-19 death, a woman from Indianapolis named Roberta Shelton. Since then, Marion County has reported 328 confirmed deaths. 

But the metropolitan county isn’t the highest death rate in the state: that goes to Decatur County, a largely rural county in southeastern Indiana. The death rate in Decatur County is 10.5 per 10,000 residents, more than triple that of Marion County. 

Indiana Manufacturers Ask For Consistent State Health Rules, But No Regulations

The Indiana Manufacturers Association is asking the governor to allow all manufacturing facilities to open - from production lines to distribution centers. The association sent reopening recommendations asking for clear safety rules, but not additional regulations.

IMA says manufacturing is the most critical sector of the state’s economy and the availability of PPE, cleaning products, and testing is the biggest concern for safe reopening, especially as many companies donated their supplies to the state for health care agencies.

It recommends employers institute CDC guidelines like social distancing and promoting personal hygiene, however it says a “patchwork of advice” has made it hard to create a clear standard. 

You Asked What Indiana’s Economic Reopen Might Look Like. We’ve Got Answers

Members of the Indiana 2020 Two-Way asked us about what work might look like as Indiana slowly reopens sectors of the economy. To join, text “elections” to 73224.

So, Indiana Public Broadcasting and All IN went to work to answer some of those questions by gathering a panel of experts, including: Justin Hicks, IPB News workforce reporter; Teresa Stewart, a service technician and member of the Service Employees International Union; Paul Nappier, an organizer for SEIU Local 1; and David Krause, a toxicologist and certified industrial hygienist. 

Cummins Manufacturing Outlines Reopening Plans

The Columbus-based company will open two of its three plants shuttered since April due to the novel coronavirus.

Spokesperson Jon Mills says the engine plant, fuel systems plant and the Seymour engine plant will open Monday. 

“We’re going to have site entry screenings, temperature checks, and questions before anyone can come in,” he says.

Cummins will maintain extensive cleaning and sanitation measures in highly-trafficked areas.

RV Industry Prepares To Reopen With COVID-19 Safety Measures In Place For Employees

The RV industry in northern Indiana is preparing to reopen in early May. RV manufacturers and dealers are brainstorming ways to keep employees safe as the coronavirus crisis continues.

The RV Industry Association and the RV Indiana Council recently sent a letter to Gov. Eric Holcomb outlining recommended safety measures for companies when reopening production lines.

Some of those include hand sanitizer stations, temperature checks before employees enter the building, and plastic separators between workstations. Other strategies mentioned are providing PPE for all employees, disinfecting work stations each day, and sanitizing tools.

Bruce Hopkins is the VP of Standards for the RVIA and helped create the Workplace Safety Task Force. He says companies need to figure out which COVID-19 mitigation strategies work best for them before reopening.

Pence Visits Kokomo GM Plant, Applauds ‘Inspiring’ Effort To Make Ventilators

Vice President Mike Pence was back home again in Indiana Thursday to visit a General Motors plant in Kokomo.

The auto manufacturer, in partnership with medical device-maker Ventec, is producing 30,000 ventilators to help combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pence met with company leaders and factory workers. He told GM CEO Mary Barra what he saw was inspiring.

“When President Trump and you spoke about this, it was – he made it very clear that we weren’t just going to have a ‘whole of government’ approach, we needed a ‘whole of America’ approach,” Pence says.

Vote-By-Mail Group Sues State To Force Vote By Mail In November

A group dedicated to pursuing vote-by-mail for every Hoosier in every election is suing the state to help make that a reality this fall.

The non-profit and 12 Hoosiers filed a federal lawsuit this week against Secretary of State Connie Lawson and the Indiana Election Commission.

READ MORE: Can I Go For A Walk? Here's What The Updated 'Stay-At-Home' Order Really Does

Join the conversation and sign up for the Indiana 2020 Two-Way. Text "elections" to 73224. Your comments and questions in response to our weekly text help us find the answers you need on COVID-19 and the 2020 election.

LEE MAS: ¿Puedo Salir A Caminar? Esto Es Lo Que Significa Una Orden De Permanecer En Casa

The aptly-named Indiana Vote By Mail brought the suit to force the state to allow absentee vote-by-mail for all voters in the November general election.

READ MORE: The Voter Registration Deadline Is May 4. Here’s What You Need To Vote In Indiana

That option was already made possible for the June 2 primary election, due to COVID-19 concerns.

Weekly Unemployment Claims Numbers Continue to Fall

About 57,000 Hoosiers were among the 3.8 million Americans who filed to receive unemployment benefits last week according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The trend is continuing downward since the state’s “Stay-At-Home” order in March.

The Department of Workforce Development began allowing self-employed workers and those with short work histories to file for pandemic unemployment assistance this week. It says more than 65,000 have filed for that program successfully. The department also says it is working with state agencies to develop a strategy to offer job training.

Due to state and federal unemployment laws, DWD Commissioner Fred Payne says if someone receiving unemployment benefits is called back to work as companies reopen, they will have to return despite health concerns they may have.

Not Just A Statistical Error: Why COVID-19 Has Gripped A Small Indiana County

Given its rural setting and sparse population, one might think Decatur County and southeastern Indiana are unlikely places for a COVID-19 outbreak. 

But, Decatur County has one of the state’s highest per-capita infection rates, and that’s putting a strain on local health systems that don’t have the capacity to care for larger numbers of patients.

Sean Durbin works with the Decatur County Health Department. He believes the data paints an accurate picture. While it is impossible to know just how bad the outbreak is here, Durbin says it is clear this part of the state is disproportionately affected.

“I can’t speak to other counties,” he says. “I know our testing rate per population has been higher than a lot of other counties, so those could be driving up. It’s hard for me to believe it’s just a statistical error, but it’s also hard to say until this whole thing pans out.”

Questions Raised About COVID-19 Death In Indiana Prison

On the day Scottie Edwards died, he nearly fell over on the way to the bathroom. A pair of fellow inmates at the Westville Correctional Facility propped him up and got him to sit down on a toilet. 

“He had been sick for about a week and a half,” says one inmate named Josh in a recorded call. He asked to be identified by his first name, because he fears retaliation from prison staff. 

Edwards, 73, had been sentenced to 40 years in prison after attempting to kill someone in 2001. He would have been released to home detention on May 1, according to court documents. But he began showing symptoms of COVID-19 in early April, according to an account by three inmates who lived with him in a dormitory. He was short of breath and his chest hurt. He could barely talk, was dizzy, sweaty and throwing up.

Edwards couldn’t even make it to see medical staff on his own — other prisoners say they pushed him in a wheelchair. Each time, he was sent back to his quarters. 

"Those bastards said I’m fine, I just need to drink water and rest,” Josh recalls Edwards saying. “I’m clearly not fine — I can’t breathe.” Another prisoner wrote that Edwards’ room “smelled like sickness and death.”

Contact Lauren at lchapman@wfyi.org or follow her on Twitter at @laurenechapman_.

This is a rapidly evolving story, and we are working hard to bring you the most up-to-date information. However, we recommend checking the websites of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the Indiana State Department of Health for the most recent numbers of COVID-19 cases.

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