By Dan Spalding
WARSAW – Local leaders are awaiting word from Gov. Eric Holcomb about lifting some statewide restrictions Friday, May 1, but think he will move cautiously in that direction.
Holcomb’s pandemic-induced stay-at-home directive expires Friday and everyone from government leaders to business owners to workers stuck at home are eager to return to any sense of normalcy, mostly for economic reasons.
Holcomb’s anticipated move on Friday could result in a domino effect across the state and down to the local level.
Any changes are expected to be part of a phased-in approach, but what will change and what parts of the state will be affected remains unclear. Easing restrictions could be done statewide, regionally or county-by-county, officials say.
The announcement is expected as the state prepares to begin large-scale testing at 50 sites across the state next week. It also comes amid news that Cass County recorded a large jump in cases connected to a meatpacking plant in Logansport.
As is the case for everyone involved, though, the lifting of restrictions is uncharted territory for everyone, officials said.
Kosciusko County Commissioner Cary Groninger compared it to working on a 2,000-piece puzzle without a picture on the box to help guide assembly.
“There’s no road map. It’s all new territory,” Groninger said said following a weekly news briefing at Warsaw City Hall that is streamed online and available for viewing on the city website. “I hope the public understands … what we’re going through – that it’s constantly changing.”
Groninger was joined at the news conference by Warsaw Mayor Joe Thallemer, Kosciusko County Health Officer William Remington and U.S. Sen. Mike Braun, who joined the event online.
All three local leaders indicated they believe some restrictions will be lifted.
“We assume there will be some movement in the loosening of the stay-at-home order,” Thallemer said.
Remington supports a move toward some reopening.
“I think it will be OK to cautiously open the economy despite a growing case count – I really do – but I think you need to be very smart about it,” Remington said.
He declined to say exactly when that should happen, instead deferring to the governor’s decision.
“I could see us incrementally open up during the month of May,” he said.
Remington said he is not “sold” on testing of all employees as they return to work
“Testing is absolutely important … but it shouldn’t become the straw man to keep us from doing anything differently,” he said.
Braun also weighed in on how best to stage a reopening of the economy.
“In my opinion, it’s county-by-county and state-by-state across the country and I feel real good about the fact that that’s gonna be how we’re gonna address the economic component without giving an inch back to the disease,” Braun said.
In one significant development, Thallemer announced the farmer’s market in downtown Warsaw will open for the season on Saturday, but with some changes.
Food and planting supplies will be available because they are considered essential. Crafts won’t be sold, Thallemer said.
Those visiting will be asked to practice social distancing and wear a mask, Thallemer said.
Meanwhile, non-medical masks continue to be available at Fire Station No. 2 on Center Street.
Thallemer encouraged those making masks to drop them off at the station. Those wanting masks should check the Warsaw-Wayne Fire Territory’s Facebook page before driving over to make sure masks are available.
Braun focused many of his comments on the financial impact the federal bailouts have had.
He expressed concern about another round of federal spending after authorizing the use of more than $3 trillion in just a matter of two months.
“Beyond what we did, it’s gonna be difficult to replace the real economy,” Braun said.
“It was necessary, but how much more we can do after $3 trillion … in one year? – that’s going to be a difficult thing to get around,” he said.
Thallemer said he thinks testing will continue to be a key until a vaccine is available.
Braun responded by saying he thinks sufficient testing will be directed to areas such as nursing homes.
The first-term senator was asked about the future of some ag-based business in light of the high number of cases at the meatpacking plant in Logansport. He said he believes poultry and meatpacking businesses in the future will require some “ingenuity and agility.”
While the country represents less than 4 percent of the world’s population, about one-quarter of all COVID-19 deaths have been in the United States.
Braun was asked what he thought of the federal government’s response.
“I think we’ve done as good a job as we probably could have, given the poor warning that we had and the nature of how we live in this country.”
Wednesday’s weekly press conference was the fifth specifically addressing the pandemic. Another is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. May 6. Archived copies of the meeting can be found in the city of Warsaw’s website.