Updated March 16 at 3:57 p.m.
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana officials have reported the state’s first death linked to the coronavirus outbreak.
State health officials said the person was over 60 and suffered other medical problems as well as the COVID-19. The Indianapolis resident died Monday at a Community Health Network hospital.
Gov. Eric Holcomb expressed sympathy for the death at a Statehouse news conference and said it underlined the seriousness of the illness.
“To those who think we that may be overreacting, I can assure that you we are not,” Holcomb said. “Indiana is under a public health emergency. We are, no mistake about it, at war with COVID-19.”
Tests have confirmed 24 COVID-19 illnesses in 13 Indiana counties as of Monday, according to the state health department.
State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box said Indianapolis is showing “community spread” of the illness with confirmed cases that cannot be traced back to the person traveling to affected countries or conferences.
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All restaurants and bars in Indiana are being closed to in-person customers in another step ordered Monday by Gov. Eric Holcomb toward stemming the spread of the coronavirus.
Holcomb's order follows the same step being taken in each state adjacent to Indiana in recent days.
Schools across the state have largely closed to students. According to the governor's office, 273 public school districts have either shut down or switched to online classwork. The state education department is working with the 16 others to determine their next steps.
Holcomb last week approved allowing schools to cancel 20 days without having to make them up later, but said local school officials should decide if and when they would close. Statewide school closings have occurred in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Illinois after their governors either ordered the closures or asked schools to do so.
Holcomb and other state officials are expected to discuss the state’s response during a Monday afternoon news conference at the Statehouse.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.
The number of confirmed COVID-19 illnesses in Indiana reached 24 on Monday in 13 counties, according to the state health department. That is five more than reported on Sunday and double Friday’s number.
Holcomb said Friday that people must take precautions to slow the spread of the virus.
“This is real. The numbers are going to continue to increase by the very definition of the what this virus is,” Holcomb told reporters.
Indiana’s hospitals and surgery centers are being asked to cancel or postpone elective and non-urgent surgical procedures to free up resources and personnel to treat patients who may have the virus.
Several hospitals have already canceled elective surgeries.
“We have been urged to reduce the use of vital resources, including blood products, critical equipment and staff, in preparation for the expected influx of COVID-19 patients,” Dr. Ram Yeleti, chief physician executive of the Indianapolis-based Community Health Network hospitals, told the Indianapolis Business Journal.
State regulators in Indiana also closed all casinos and off-track betting parlors, effective Monday, for at least two weeks.
Indiana will adhere to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation to limit large events and mass gatherings to 50 people, according to the governor’s office. Holcomb last week discouraged non-essential gatherings of more than 250 people in sites such as churches, stadiums, conference rooms and auditoriums.
An employee at the state police laboratory division in Indianapolis has been diagnosed with the virus and remains hospitalized, according to state police. One co-worker is self-quarantined at home and others have been notified.
Colleges across the state — including Indiana, Purdue and Ivy Tech — are taking steps such as extending spring breaks and temporarily canceling classroom instruction.
Indiana University has closed all residence halls and coursework will be submitted online for the rest of the semester. IU officials had planned to resume classes April 6.
“All of us regret deeply that we have to take these actions,” IU President Michael McRobbie said in a message on the university website. “Yet they are absolutely necessary, and we are asking all individuals to make deep sacrifices for the good of those in our community who are most vulnerable to the threat of infection.”
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