The Indiana mask mandate ended on April 6, 2021, the day after the NCAA tournament ended, which was hosted in Indianapolis from March 18-April 5. Masks are still required in government buildings and property. Additionally, masks are still required where I live in Indianapolis (Marion County) under the public health orders from the Indianapolis mayor, so not much has changed here with the end of the statewide mask mandate.
Here in Indianapolis, people are decently compliant with wearing masks as required. The public places I frequent include church, the grocery and a handful of other stores, and I would say that 95-99% of people are wearing masks. The mask mandate does not apply to outdoor situations where people can social distance.
Working the polls on election day was the largest cross-section of mask-wearing that I have witnessed, and while nearly everyone had a mask on, a sizable proportion (30%?) of people were wearing them poorly – lots of noses sticking out. I see this sometimes at the stores or karate, but not to such a great extent. The polling place where I worked was very close to the border with a neighboring, more rural county. We had masks available to offer people, but did not push it if people refused; only a few did. Two of the men that refused masks came to the polls with guns displayed prominently on their hips, and bodycams strapped to their chests.
In Indianapolis, all the schools, public and private, switched to e-learning for the remainder of the 2019/2020 school year. In the fall of 2020, many Indianapolis schools gave the choice to the parents: opt for in-person or e-learning, one quarter at a time. Then Indianapolis Public Schools announced that everyone could return in-person at the beginning of January; however, at least one of the nearby school districts (where a coworker lives) had set their own guidelines for return (having to do with percent testing positive in the county) that were stricter than IPS’ guidelines, but by February 1st they too were back in-person.
Overall, what I’ve heard from coworkers about this school year is that elementary schools are back in-person five days a week, while junior and senior high public schools do hybrid schedules, with classes divided into cohorts for in-person attendance.
Area private/Christian high schools are 100% in person at present. I believe they went back in-person sooner, and did not offer hybrid options as the public schools did.
All of the schools have been vigilant about having kids stay home and do e-learning if they are exposed to COVID at school or elsewhere.
As far as I can tell, right now the limitation is that restaurants should be able to seat people in a socially distant manner, but an exact capacity restriction is not in effect. Restaurants were at 25% for a long time in 2020, following the state’s county-based color-coding system that used COVID positivity rates to determine how open or closed each county should be. A friend from church who works baking breads and desserts at a trendy restaurant near downtown was out of that work for a few months in 2020, then got to go back for about 5 hours a week last summer, and now may be up to 5 hours two days a week.
Outdoor dining is allowed, though I’m not sure setting up tents has been popular here (though I have not gone out to eat here during the pandemic). Last summer a street near downtown that is a hot spot for dining closed to vehicles to allow for more outdoor seating.
Religious gatherings were cancelled on March 15, 2020 and resumed June 2020.
I’ll mostly focus on the congregation I am a member of, a Presbyterian and reformed church on the outskirts of Indianapolis/Marion County. Religious gatherings stopped as soon as everything started shutting down (which I date to March 13, 2020, when we started working from home, though the first stay-at-home order was not issued until Monday, March 16), so March 15, 2020, was the first Sunday that we were not able to meet in person. Within a month or so, the state had released guidelines and precautions for gathering in-person, though many aspects were couched as suggestions rather than hard and fast rules.
It turned out that resuming our Sunday worship services was a touchier subject than anticipated among the congregation. In mid-May, our pastor sent an email with a plan to return in-person on May 17th; however, a follow-up email quickly announced a delay on those plans: “We had initially proposed resuming socially distanced services this coming Sunday. However, congregational responses indicated significant reservations about doing so. We note, on the one hand, a general desire among many to wait until social distancing measures like masks are no longer necessary. We also note, on the other hand, a concern among others about the safety of regathering at this time with, for instance, group singing in an enclosed space.”
While most of the congregation has accepted the need for masking, distancing, and keeping the sanctuary windows open year round, there are still both those who don’t feel safe coming in person as well as those who think the mask mandate is fundamentally wrong, refuse to attend worship while it is in effect, and think that the church is wrong to go along with it. However, our elders have repeated many times that we will submit to the government as long as they are not asking us to sin, which in this case they certainly are not asking us to do anything morally compromising. We met outdoors all summer in 2020, with maybe one exception due to rain. Over the winter of 2020/2021, we met indoors with masks, extra distance between the rows of chairs, and windows open for air flow. While some members of the congregation got COVID elsewhere, thankfully no one brought it to church and there was no outbreak among church members. This has not been true in some of our sister churches in the state, where some enforced distancing on Sundays but not necessarily at elders’ meetings or in their own homes. Churches in more rural areas, such as where my sister attends in Terre Haute, did not enforce masking or distancing, so maybe 50% of the church would wear a mask regularly to worship services; their congregation had a COVID outbreak in early 2021. Our congregation also takes the Lord’s Supper regularly; we switched from passing plates of crackers and cups to pre-packaged communion elements that could be spaced out on a table for people to grab on their way into the sanctuary. Members remove their masks briefly to partake of the elements, then quickly put their masks back in place as the service closes out.
Prior to the pandemic, our small congregation was not live-streaming worship services. Throughout March and April, our pastor recording a video of the sermon and posted it to Vimeo each weekend, then sent out a bulletin so that we could walk through the worship service on our own at home. This was weird for me as a single person living alone, but I pulled up a chair in front of the TV, read all the Scripture passages, sang all the psalms, prayed, and tried to make it feel as normal as possible. Then the congregation heard about a great opportunity: the Indiana Center for Congregations was offering matching funds to help Indiana churches install live-streaming technology. Each grant would cover 90 percent of the costs if the congregation paid the other 10 percent, up to a maximum of $5,000, so thanks to one of these grants we were able to purchase AV gear for streaming the worship services.
As for restrictions for religious gatherings, the early suggestions were to strongly encourage online services, to recommend that those age 65 and older stay home, and to socially distance. Until early May 2020, there were not to be more than 10 people at any gathering in general, but after that was relaxed, churches began to meet in person again, and there were not specific size guidelines. Our congregation moved the morning worship service outdoors into the parking lot, and switched from an evening service to a Zoom prayer meeting. Many of us appreciated the prayer meeting because we got to hear from each household every week; at the prayer time during the evening service, it would often be the same people sharing every time, so this gave everyone a chance to speak up, and to speak about mundane life things that stood out during isolation and pandemic. When the services moved back indoors for the winter, we started out singing fewer stanzas of each selection, but eventually fell back into the habit of singing our usual number of entire selections. Outside of worship services, we’ve found ways to have careful gatherings to mark important occasions. When our pastor resigned in the fall of 2020, we carefully prepped individual charcuterie boxes so that we could gather at a picnic shelter house and have a farewell meal. When a member of the congregation got engaged, we hosted an outdoor bridal shower on a day in February when there was snow on the ground, and everyone stood around for two hours!
Movie theaters are open now (May 2021). This Friday, the local Regal theater has 17 different movies showing. The Regal website states that auditorium capacity is limited to 50% right now. It also has guidelines for wearing masks (except when eating and drinking) and mentions that vending machines and drinking fountains are not available, and refills are “suspended”.
An attempt just now to purchase a ticket at my nearby Regal theater gave me a pop-up warning about seat distancing, but when it came to picking my seat, none of the seats were marked unavailable in the chart. Perhaps once someone purchases seats, then it will mark the surrounding seats as unavailable, to adjust to various group sizes.
I work at a research institute that supports the local medical school (and others) and focuses on informatics and healthcare/health services research. Because we have access to statewide health information exchange data, our leadership has been working closely with the state health department to respond to questions about comorbidities and healthcare utilization, and to set up a corresponding dashboard. The state of Indiana also has its own dashboard – two, in fact: one for tracking positive COVID-19 cases, and one for tracking vaccination progress. The institute’s dashboard is similar to the positive cases dashboard but with the addition of comorbidities and hospitalizations. Our local school of public health researchers have been incredibly busy, and I think a shining example of their work is the random sample study that began in summer 2020: https://www.pnas.org/content/118/5/e2013906118
For this study, they did their best to obtain a truly random sample of COVID-19 tests from Indiana residents (how to find a list of all Indiana residents? They combined everyone with a tax return in 2019 with BMV records in their attempt to do this, no small feat) in order to ascertain the true prevalence of the disease. The school of public health team could also be found in action at the NCAA tournament, counting mask usage; according to my coworker who went to count one evening, roughly 75% of attendees masked appropriately, though some were stringing one beer after another since they could have their masks off to eat and drink. Elsewhere on campus, and across a network of universities around the state, the early months of the pandemic saw a massive coordinated effort of labs with 3D printers signing up to make PPE for healthcare workers.
The Indy 500
The Indy 500 car race usually draws close to 300,000 attendees, so pandemic restrictions were certainly felt at one of the biggest sporting events of the year. In 2020, the race was moved from its usual place on the calendar – the Sunday prior to Memorial Day – to August 23rd. On August 4th they announced that there would be no spectators, and they lifted the typical local broadcast blackout. As of this writing in mid-May 2021, the plan for this year is to hold the race on Memorial Day weekend as usual, and to allow 135,000 spectators. (As a side note, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has been used as a location for mass vaccination clinics, and I got my first shot there – inside a garage in Gasoline Alley!)
A few other things that bear mentioning:
- The 89 year old mother of a friend from church spent most of the pandemic in a nursing home, where visitation was limited. When she came down with COVID in the fall of 2020, my friend and her sisters decided to take her out of the nursing home and bring her into their homes. Sadly, she had a stroke and passed away at the end of the year, but what I love and respect so much is the choice that they made to bring her home so that she would not spend her last days locked away in a nursing home.
- I’ve never felt so in touch with my neighborhood before; the pandemic gave me an opportunity to get to know my neighbors better, and to focus on what might cheer up people in my vicinity who might be a bit isolated like me (single, living alone). Working from home has allowed me to look out the window every day and see the regular walkers, joggers, and runners. Taking more regular walks brought me a friend around the corner who noticed me walking by frequently and also recognized the workplace logo on my jacket.
- A friend at church who had a baby at the end of March 2020 says that the baby now gets excited every time they start putting their masks on, because it means they’re going somewhere and will see people.