Governor extends emergency declaration; to extend “hunker down” order Monday

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb announced Friday afternoon that he has extended the public health emergency declaration for the state for another 30 days, keeping the state on an emergency footing until May 3rd.

He said that on Monday, he will extend the “hunker down” or stay-at-home executive order for two more weeks. That would continue the restrictions through April 20th.

The governor said that a two-week extension allows the state to be more nimble than extending the order a full month at a time, allowing more precise changes to the details of the order.

The governor in his daily briefing also said that the federal government had approved a disaster declaration for the state of Indiana in all 92 counties.

County judges say cell phones can’t be used in courtrooms

You can’t use your cell phone in or around Bartholomew County courtrooms.

The county’s judges issued guidance this week saying that the county will not introduce new rules regarding recording in the courthouse, instead relying on existing state judicial guidelines.

The state rule forbids broadcasting, televising, recording, or taking photographs in or around the courtrooms.  The judges and magistrates say they want to protect jurors, witnesses, victims, parties to a case, confidential informants, and children who are present in the courthouse from being exploited.

Signs will be installed in the courtroom areas informing the public that their phones must be turned off and put away.

Failing to comply, could mean being cited for contempt of court.

Coronavirus roundup for April 3rd: State deaths top 100; SNAP benefits increasing

State releases COVID-19 infection numbers

Indiana hit a grim new milestone with the number of deaths in the state from COVID-19 passing a hundred.

The new death total of 102 also now surpasses the number of deaths from the seasonal flu recorded in Indiana from October through early March. The state recorded 101 deaths during the flu season.

The Indiana State Department of Health is reporting 3,437 positive test results for COVID-19 in the state in its Friday morning update. There have been 16,900 tests reported to the health department.

Bartholomew County has 23 positive test results, with 70 in Decatur, 31 in Jennings, 25 in Jackson, 3 in Brown, 136 in Johnson and 26 in Shelby counties.

Marion County has the highest number in the state with 1,429 confirmed cases.

SNAP benefits increasing to max levels

The Indiana Family and Social Services Administration announced today that more than 152,000 Indiana households will receive additional Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits when April distributions begin this Sunday.

The additional funds are intended to help Hoosiers obtain food and support for their families while Indiana responds to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act gives states the option to provide SNAP households with the maximum SNAP allotment, which is based on household size.

SNAP households which are not currently receiving the maximum allotment will receive additional benefits which bring their allotment amount to the maximum. Households already receiving the maximum benefit will not receive additional benefits.

Maximum amounts per household size are as follows:

Number in SNAP household
Maximum benefit
1 $194
2 $355
3 $509
4 $646
5 $768
6 $921
7 $1,018
8 $1,164

Each additional person Add $146

Indiana SNAP recipients receive their benefits via electronic benefit transfer according to a schedule based on the first letter of their last name. Each month, distribution starts on the 5th and concludes on the 23rd.

All new applications authorized in April will also receive the maximum allotment for their household size. FSSA is working to inform various partners and stakeholders, including retailers, of the change to help them inform and explain to SNAP recipients the reason for the additional allotment.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program provides food assistance to low and no income people and families living in the United States. It is a federal aid program administered by the Food and Nutrition Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Distribution of benefits occurs at the state level. In February 2020, 559,600 Hoosiers from approximately 253,658 households across Indiana received SNAP benefits.

Cummins cutting pay for workers, executives

Updated: This story has been updated

Cummins announced this morning that it will be cutting pay and hours for its employees in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The company says it will be cutting pay and hours between 10 and 25 percent for salaried and office employees in the United States. There will also be a reduction of 50 percent in the salary of the CEO and 25 percent directors compensation.

Jon Mills, spokesman for the company, explains:

In essence, the company is reducing pay but also reducing the hours employees are being asked to work by a commensurate amount, Mills said.

Mills says that the announced cuts will not affect factory workers, but they are also facing cuts of their own as demand decreases:

Columbus area workers at the mid-range engine plant have been off with pay for two weeks while Fiat-Chrysler is shut down.

The company said the move is in response to lower demand and customer shutdowns in several countries. The company will be taking similar actions outside the United States based on local regulations and collective bargaining obligations.

Company officials said the pay cuts are meant to be temporary.

The full announcement:

Today, Cummins Inc. (NYSE: CMI) provided an update on the actions it is taking in response to the impact of COVID-19.

“The impact from the pandemic on the global economy has been sudden and is growing, and it is imperative for us to respond quickly to maintain our strong financial position,” said Tom Linebarger, Chairman and CEO, Cummins Inc.

In response to lower demand and customer shutdowns in several countries, the company is taking the following temporary actions to lower costs:

  • A reduction of 50 percent in the salary of the CEO
  • A reduction of 25 percent in Director compensation
  • A reduction in salary for all other employees in the United States of between 10 and 25 percent and a reduction in working hours

The company will take similar actions outside the United States based on local regulations and collective bargaining obligations. These reductions in pay are intended to be a temporary measure; the company will continue to monitor business conditions closely and reassess the program at the end of the second quarter.

“These are difficult but necessary actions and I know they will have a real impact on the lives of our employees and their families,” added Linebarger. “I appreciate their understanding and support as we work through these challenging times together. I want to thank our employees for their continued commitment to ensuring our customers receive the products and service they need to provide essential support to the global economy.”

Mayor: Enjoy city parks but leave space from each other

The city of Columbus wants you to know that the community’s parks are open for your recreation during this epidemic as long as you stay away from other people.

Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop explained during last night’s video update to the community that people should maintain social distancing guidelines while using the open areas of the parks. To that end, the city removed basketball hoops and soccer goals.

The mayor turned back to his own experience on a basketball court as to why the goals were removed.

The mayor said that park playgrounds are closed with caution tape, and there have been reports of parents removing the tape so their children can play. He said that is not safe and should not be done.

 

Indiana students to graduate but no graduations to be held

Indiana students will be out of the classroom through the end of the school year.

Gov. Eric Holcomb and state Schools Superintendent Jennifer McCormick announced Thursday afternoon that that all K-12 schools in Indiana will remain closed for the rest of the academic year, and all school districts will resort to distance learning.

The governor’s order also allows graduation of students who meet guidelines including all of the course requirements based on a combination of credits earned prior to March 19th, when the governor closed the schools, and the courses in which a student was enrolled as of that date; Also, students must complete any virtual or remote learning participation requirements from the school district, and any other school district requirements.

Dr. Jim Roberts, superintendent for Bartholomew Consolidated Schools issued a statement Thursday night confirming that BCSC is closed from now through the scheduled last day of school May 28th. That includes all school-related activities or other uses of school facilities.

Roberts said graduation will not be conducted in the traditional sense, but the district is committed to finding a special way to formally recognize each one of the graduates. He said the district is sorry that seniors will not experience the last quarter of their 13 years of school in the way that was anticipated.

Roberts said the district will continue to have eLearning days on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, with Mondays and Fridays used for staff to prepare their lessons and to make assessments. He said meals will continue to be distributed Mondays through Fridays.

To read Roberts entire letter to BCSC, click here.

Ax-wielding man arrested in downtown Columbus

Cody J. Spencer. Photo courtesy of Columbus Police Department

A Columbus man is being accused of swinging an ax at a person.

Columbus police were called the 2200 block of Indiana Avenue at about 12:10 Wednesday afternoon after reports a man threatening a victim with an ax and swinging the weapon. Officers located 23-year-old Cody J. Spencer and he was taken into custody.

Spencer was taken to Columbus Regional Hospital to be checked out before being taken to the Bartholomew County Jail on a preliminary charge of intimidation with a deadly weapon.

No injuries were reported.

Coronavirus roundup 2 for April 2nd: Health officer offers shopping, store guidelines

Shopping guidelines for keeping safe

From: Dr. Brian Niedbalski, Bartholomew County Health Officer

KEEP YOUR DISTANCE

  • Go alone. Do not bring children or other family members or friends.
  • Whether waiting in line before a store opens, while waiting to get a cart, or waiting in line to make a purchase, keep a 6-foot buffer zone between the person in front of or behind you.
  • Don’t congregate in the aisles, especially the produce section. Take turns if possible.

LIMIT YOUR TRIPS

  • Limit your trips by buying what you need for two weeks, but don’t hoard.
  • If you are not feeling well, don’t shop.
  • High-risk (elderly and people with underlying health conditions) should avoid going into stores.

KEEP IT CLEAN

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before you leave your home and when you return.
  • Consider using hand sanitizer after touching high touch areas in the store (i.e. freezer door handles, etc.)
  • If available, use the store’s wipes to wipe down the cart you are using before and after your shopping trip.
  • Consider bringing your own disinfecting wipes (to wipe down carts) and hand sanitizer as stores may run out during busy times.
  • Don’t pick up or touch items you don’t intend to buy. If available, wear plastic gloves and a mask when you shop and don’t touch your face.
  • If you wear gloves and a mask, handwashing and distancing are still critical to prevent the spread of infection. Don’t let mask and gloves give you a false sense of security.

AVOID GOING INSIDE OR TIME SHOPPING TRIPS STRATEGICALLY

  • Use grocery store curbside pickup, online ordering, and/or telephone ordering when available.
  • Many stores are offering dedicated shopping hours to elderly or at risk patients- utilize these times if possible for you.
  • Consider shopping early when stores are the cleanest or time shopping trips to “off” times when crowds are less likely.

AVOID USING CASH

  • Use a payment app on your smartphone.
  • Use a credit/debit card in the self-checkout line.
  • Self-checkout kiosks are high touch surfaces.
  • Wash your hands immediately after using.

CLEAN YOUR PURCHASES

  • Consider anything you bring home as contaminated.
  • It is not fully understood how long the virus can live on surfaces.
  • Keep non-perishable items in the garage or on a porch for three days. Or thoroughly clean each item before you put items away.
  • Clean your hands after putting items away.
  • Sanitize countertops after you unload your groceries.

BE KIND, USE SELF-CHECKOUT IF POSSIBLE

  • Remember to be kind to the employees who are providing a life-critical service for the rest of us. They deserve our respect and our thanks.

Recommendations for retail stores

1. Adjust store layout to enable shoppers to stay 6 feet apart at all times.

2. Utilize employees to “direct traffic” so shoppers don’t congregate in produce, meat, dairy and other aisles.

3. Consider making aisles one-way.

4. Reduce the height of or eliminate in-aisle, point-of-purchase displays so shoppers don’t inadvertently bump into each other.

5. Consider limiting the number of people in store at one time:

  • Establish a shopper maximum appropriate for your store
  • Monitor entrances & exits

6. Mitigate virus transmission between shoppers & employees. Consider implementing the following best practices:

  • Employees wear masks & gloves
  • Implement daily deep cleaning
  • Implement shift start & end temperature check protocols
  • Install protective panels at checkout and pharmacy counters

7. Consider selling only essential items for the next two weeks.

8. Consider offering separate shopping times to at-risk or elderly customers.

Governor: Spring school session to stay all-online; Sports season canceled

Gov. Eric Holcomb’s office released a statement today:

Gov. Eric J. Holcomb today signed an executive order requiring all K-12 schools in Indiana to provide instruction via remote learning for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year and outlines options for districts to continue education during the fight against COVID-19.

To complete the school year, all schools previously received a 20-day waiver to reduce the number of required in-person or remote instruction days to 160. Schools must continue to provide instruction via remote learning until they complete either:

  • 160 instructional days or
  • At least 20 additional days of remote learning between the date of the executive order (today) and the end of the school year. If a school completes 20 days and falls short of the required 160 instructional days, the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) can waive the difference.
  • All K-12 schools will need to submit a plan for review and approval by IDOE by April 17. The plan can include eLearning, extended learning, project-based or portfolio learning, competency-based learning, partnerships with higher education for increased student supports, and other similar methods.

The governor, in conjunction with Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Jennifer McCormick, also directed the Indiana State Board of Education (SBOE) to provide flexibility for school corporations for students who are to graduate in 2020. A school corporation may issue an Indiana diploma to a student who has done all of the following:

  • Has met all of the course and credit requirements for the specific diploma designation based on a combination of high school credits earned prior to and the course in which a student was enrolled as of March 19, when the governor issued the statewide school closure.
  • Meets any virtual or remote learning participation requirements established by the governing body of the local school corporation in response to the statewide school closure order issued by the governor.
  • Meets any additional graduation requirements established by the governing body of the local school corporation prior to the school closure order issued by the governor.

The executive order also extends teacher licenses expiring between March 1, 2020 and Aug. 31, 2020 until Sept. 1, 2020.

Other deadlines and requirements for the current school year will be reviewed by Dr. McCormick, the executive director of SBOE, and relevant state agencies. They will submit recommendations to the Governor by April 7 for review and further action.

You can read the entire executive order here: https://www.in.gov/gov/2384.htm

The Indiana High School Athletic Association released a statement today: 

The Indiana High School Athletic Association staunchly supports our Governor, our State Commissioner of Health and our State Superintendent of Public Instruction in their herculean efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are extremely fortunate in Indiana to have these exemplary leaders providing guidance and care  to all Hoosiers.

With the announcement today of the closure of K-12 schools throughout Indiana for the remainder of the school year, the IHSAA announces the cancellation of all spring sports tournament series events for the 2019-20 school year.

It is imperative that our students, coaches, officials, administrators and parents be encouraged in every manner to adhere to the guidance provided by our leadership. The Association understands the extreme seriousness of this pandemic and joins in support of current measures being implemented as well as future considerations.

In unwavering support yet with extreme sadness, we must cancel our spring sports programming. We join all Hoosiers in anticipation of a triumphant homecoming back to our schools in the fall of 2020 complete with a full complement of IHSAA sports.

The Association continues to remind its member schools and the general public to follow the guidance of the  governor and the Indiana State Department of Health via IN.gov/coronavirus.

Coronavirus roundup for April 2nd: Jennings sets travel restrictions; State update

Jennings County raises travel restrictions

The Jennings County Sheriff’s Department is reporting that the county’s travel advisory will be set to the watch or orange level as of 8 a.m. on Saturday morning.

During a “watch” level local travel advisory, only essential travel, such as to and from work or in emergency situations, is recommended. According to the sheriff’s office, you should stay home unless travel is essential.

The sheriff’s department says that if the community works together and follows the guidelines, the community hopefully will not have to take the next step to declare a travel emergency, where all travel is restricted.

State reports more than 3,000 cases of COVID-19

The Indiana State Department of Health is reporting 3,039 positive test results for COVID-19 in the state and 78 deaths from the disease, in its Thursday morning update. There have been 16,285 tests reported to the health department.

Bartholomew County has 15 positive test results, with 59 in Decatur, 23 in Jennings, 19 in Jackson, 3 in Brown, 126 in Johnson and 24 in Shelby counties.

Marion County has the highest number in the state with 1,304 confirmed cases.