INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana's K-12 schools will remain closed for the remainder of the academic year due to the coronavirus outbreak, officials announced Thursday as the state's death toll linked to the virus climbed to 78 and confirmed cases surged past 3,000.
Gov. Eric Holcomb urged Indiana residents to continue following his stay-at-home order and said anyone flouting it is putting themselves and others around them at risk.
“We are not going to be figuratively or literally whistling past the graveyard,” Holcomb said. “We are going to be taking the steps that need to be taken in the state of Indiana.”
The governor said he plans to update residents on the order, which was originally set to expire Monday at 11:59 p.m., on Friday to provide clarity ahead of the weekend.
The new totals added 13 deaths and 474 additional cases following corrections to the previous day's total, the Indiana State Department of Health said.
Indiana State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box said about 700 people with COVID-19 or suspected to have the disease caused by the coronavirus are being treated in intensive care units at hospitals in the state.
Box discouraged people from using surgical and specialty masks for personal use. They are needed for health care workers and others who work directly with COVID-19 patients every day, she said.
“If there are masks individuals are making, I think that's a fabulous thing if you want to wear them,” she said. “But right now we don't have enough masks to mask 6.6 million Hoosiers in our state.”
State schools Superintendent Jennifer McCormick said she understood the continued closure will be difficult for many families but “all of us have to do our part.”
Seniors will receive credit toward graduation for courses they are enrolled in this semester, she said. Younger high school and middle school students will have to earn credits for this semester's courses as determined by local districts, she said.
Schools were initially ordered to close until May 1 and were not required to provide remote instruction, though many offered online learning or distributed at-home assignments. Districts now have until mid-April to provide the state with plans for continuing instruction online or through other methods.
Districts will do their best to find creative ways of marking milestones, including graduations, McCormick said.
“I understand those milestone moments are important and I'm not trying to diminish that at all,” she said. “If you're going to be upset with someone, be upset with me and support your local schools.”
The state health department has said that the additional deaths it reports each day occurred over multiple days. Those deaths are reported once there is a confirmed positive test for COVID-19 in each case.
Marion County, the home of Indianapolis, had 192 of the state’s 474 new coronavirus cases reported Thursday. Indianapolis and the seven counties surrounding it account for 45% of Indiana’s COVID-19 deaths and 62% of its confirmed cases. Marion County alone has had 24 COVID-19 deaths, or 31% of Indiana's total, and 1,304 confirmed cases that account for 43% of the state's total.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. Older adults and people with existing health problems are among those particularly susceptible to more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover.
Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak