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Some COVID-19 restrictions lifted

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Allowable capacity in restaurants, bars and music venues will increase March 1.

Looking at data in Marion County, Mayor Joe Hogsett and Dr. Virginia Caine, director of the Marion County Public Health Department, said the county is heading in the right direction.

“We have made some extraordinary gains with our COVID-19 efforts,” Caine said during the press conference held Feb. 25.

Starting next week, bar, gym and music venue capacity will increase to 50%, and indoor restaurant capacity will increase to 75%, as long as social distancing is practiced. The midnight curfew will also be raised to 2 a.m.

“There is still a significant responsibility that people are wearing masks … social distancing and we encourage the ownership to be very, very careful about patrons not abusing the opportunity for these owners and leaders of our hospitality industry to improve their own economic well-being,” Hogsett said.

Caine used two criteria — positivity rates and the number of daily new cases — to make suggestions for the city’s reopening plans. In December 2020, Marion County had a 16% positivity rate. Currently, that number is down to 3.8%.

While the county’s daily number of cases is above what Caine would like to see at 109 cases per day, she said it’s a significant improvement from December, when Marion County was averaging almost 1,000 new cases per day.

“We’re doing fantastic with our positivity rates,” Caine said. “We’re still high with the cases but we’re making remarkable progress.”

The number of Marion County residents dying of COVID-19 is also on the decline, with no more than one to two deaths per day.

To ensure this trend continues, the city has partnered with the Marion County Public Health Department to start the COVID Community Ambassadors program. This will be a neighborhood level campaign to “spread awareness of and trust in the COVID vaccine,” Hogsett said. Residents can sign up at indy.gov/covid, and sign a pledge to get involved, either by helping others sign up for a vaccination, giving a homebound neighbor a ride to get their vaccine, or simply by sharing information about the vaccine on social media.

Caine’s goal is to vaccinate 80% of Marion County residents, which is the number health experts say is necessary to return to a pre-pandemic lifestyle. The city will also host two webinars on Facebook Live to share information on the ambassadors program. The first session, in English, will be at 6 p.m. March 3, and the second, in Spanish, will be 6 p.m. March 4.

Despite initiatives from the city, there are some concerns from the community about the upcoming NCAA basketball tournament, which will allow spectators at a 25% capacity. Asked whether the event will be a “reversed spring break,” when visitors from other states visit and increase case numbers in the city, Hogsett said he isn’t concerned, but will listen to the data.

“Throughout this pandemic, we have been guided by the science and data,” Hogsett said. “We rely on Dr. Caine and her team to provide us with data-based decision making and this time around is no different. … We will remain vigilant throughout this change, and we will continue to trust the health department and follow its recommendations.”

Caine said she hopes to have a decision made by the end of this week to determine if it’s safe for schools to completely go back to in-person learning as opposed to a hybrid model. She said data shows school-aged children are less susceptible to contracting and spreading the virus.

 Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.

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