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Indiana won’t decide whether to reopen schools until July at the earliest, Holcomb says

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb
 Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb
Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Indiana will wait until the last step of its reopening plan to decide whether K-12 schools can resume in-person instruction, Gov. Eric Holcomb announced Friday.

The decision is expected to be made around July 4 at the earliest, Holcomb said — about a month before many Indiana districts typically return.

To get there, Holcomb said the state will have to continue to see the number of hospital admissions decline on a biweekly basis and maintain hospital bed and ventilator availability. If there’s a new spike of COVID-19 cases, some counties or areas may take longer to advance through his plan.

“As life starts to slowly return to that new normal, making progress toward being fully back on track will require constant vigilance from all of us,” he said.

Holcomb announced Friday a five-step plan to lift coronavirus restrictions and re-open Indiana’s economy over the next two months, following a wave of governors who have loosened stay-at-home orders and expanded the list of businesses considered essential. According to the Washington Post, more than half of the nation’s governors relaxed restrictions this week.

Indiana school buildings will remain closed through the end of the academic year, which the state defines as June 30. State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick has advised schools to plan on summer school programs continuing online. She also has warned that school likely won’t immediately go back to business as usual in the fall, even if buildings are given the green light to reopen. It’s more likely students will experience a hybrid approach, where they are brought back in waves or shifts while some continue online learning.

Schools nationwide largely remain closed, but governors are under pressure to start reopening schools after President Donald Trump on Monday encouraged them to “seriously consider” it as part of his push to jumpstart the economy. The White House is finalizing guidelines that suggest schools consider spacing student desks six feet apart, asking staff to wear face masks, and limiting how much student groups mix.

Most of the state is expected to move to the next stage of Holcomb’s plan on Monday, which loosens some restrictions by allowing social gatherings of up to 25 people and reopening restaurants at 50% capacity. Marion County, as one of the most populous counties, remains under a stay-at-home order until May 15 and will take longer to move forward, Holcomb said.

Holcomb reiterated Friday that plans remain subject to change as state officials monitor the number of COVID-19 cases, deaths, and available hospital beds. By Friday, the number of coronavirus cases in Indiana rose to more than 18,000, according to the State Department of Health. More than 1,000 Hoosiers have died of the disease.

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