HOLCOMB URGES POSTPONING MAY 5 PRIMARY: Gov. Eric Holcomb wants to see the May 5 primary election delayed due to the pandemic (Howey Politics Indiana). Asked about calls from Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr., and 5th CD Republican candidate Carl Brizzi to delay the primary, Holcomb said, "That's under discussion. I have been in communication of Secretary of State Connie Lawson. I personally support postponing the primary election. The details have to be worked out." Lawson's office told HPI on Wednesday it would be in touch when it had something to share. The NWI Times reported that a Friday Election Board meeting scheduled for today has been cancelled. Lawson sent a letter to county officials saying, "Proceed as if the May 5 primary is still a go until you hear further. All the work you have done printing and mailing ballots will not need to be duplicated in any case. I will keep you informed promptly as I have more information to share." Republican Chairman Kyle Hupfer and Democrat Chairman John Zody said in a joint letter last Friday that favor expanding vote by mail options, a position backed by 5th CD Democrat Christina Hale. The LaPorte County commissioners passed a resolution Thursday urging the Indiana Election Commission to permit no excuse mail-in voting for 2020 elections. Primaries in Kentucky, Ohio, Maryland, Georgia, Wyoming and Louisiana have been delayed due to the pandemic. The potential problem with delaying the election until late summer is that a Health & Human Services memo says the pandemic could last up to 18 months in come in waves. Holcomb, Speaker Todd Huston and Senate President Pro Tem Rod Bray declined to back a special session that could to required to approve broader vote by mail legislation. Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett and City-County Council President Vop Osili announced that the city intends to mail all registered voters in Marion County an absentee ballot application well before the planned primary (IBJ). “Our top priority as public officials continues to be the protection of our residents from the threat associated with the COVID-19 outbreak,” Hogsett said in a written statement. “We are also mindful of our obligation to ensure that voters are able to freely and safely exercise their right."

HOLCOMB EXPANDS STATE VIRUS RESPONSE: Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb expanded the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic on a number of fronts Thursday, as he banned residential evictions, pulled back on plans to spend nearly $300 million from the state’s reserves, and promised the state would broadly interpret unemployment rules to help as many out-of-work Hoosiers as possible (Erdody, IBJ). Holcomb said he’s still not prepared to issue further travel or work restrictions or take the drastic step of ordering people to shelter-in-place, as some communities like San Francisco have done. But he ordered all K-12 schools—public and private—closed through May 1, and he said they may have to close for the semester. “We’ll make that call down the road,” he said. Holcomb also canceled all student testing for the year. The order closing schools was the first statewide manage for districts. The governor had previously left the decision up to local officials, but made it an easier call for them by creating waivers for missed days. All schools had closed, but some had at least tentative plans to return in April. With the extended closures, schools will not have to administer the federally-required ILEARN exam to grades 3-8 this year. The testing window was originally scheduled to open April 20. Other tests, including IREAD-3 for third graders and ISTEP 10 for high schoolers, are also canceled.

DR. BOX SAYS TESTING FINALLY RAMPING UP:  Indiana's top medical officer says Hoosiers should expect more positive cases of the novel coronavirus statewide as the state's testing capabilities are bolstered (Crandell, WPTA-TV). During a news conference Thursday afternoon while Gov. Eric Holcomb announced he is extending Indiana's state of emergency, Indiana Health Commissioner Dr. Kris Box also addressed questions over COVID-19 testing. Compared to Wednesday, Thursday's number of patients tested increased by 187. As of Thursday, a total of 380 Hoosiers were tested for COVID-19. A total of 56 patients have tested positive for the virus, and two people have died in Indiana. Dr. Box said in the past 24 hours, about 200 tests have been completed. Just after 4 p.m. Thursday, the Allen County Health Department announced 2 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Allen County. Right now, the Indiana Department of Health's website doesn't show that updated data, because Dr. Box said they update that information daily at 10 a.m. “As we increase the number of tests analyzed each day, no one should be caught off guard that the number of positive cases will increase,” said Dr. Kris Box, state health commissioner. “This will help us know where community spread is occurring in Indiana and help us mobilize resources in affected areas. You are seeing that ramp up right now. You will see that over the weekend."

INDIANA JOBLESS CLAIMS EXPLODE: Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb on Thursday said the state has received 22,500 unemployment claims in a three-day period this week compared with only 3,100 during the same week a year ago (IBJ). The claims are being driven by layoffs at businesses that have reduced or shut down operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Other states are experiencing the same trend. Ohio, for example, received nearly 78,000 claims for unemployment compensation in three days this week, compared with only 5,430 during the entire previous week. Holcomb said the state would “interpret Indiana’s unemployment laws to the broadest extent possible to cover Hoosiers who are out of work because of COVID-19.” He offered some possible steps: Benefits will be paid to individuals who file their initial unemployment claims late. The Department of Workforce Development will allow individuals to continue to accrue unemployment eligibility if they take work leave because of COVID-19. The Department of Workforce Development will seek federal authorization to provide unemployment benefits for those who are not otherwise eligible for unemployment, such individuals who have recently started a job. For employers, DWD will not assess certain experience rate penalties because of employees who receive unemployment benefits because of COVID-19. Mike Hicks, director of Ball State’s Center for Business and Economic Research, estimated that mass layoffs caused by social distancing will cause unemployment to jump from 3.5% to 10.5% nationally and 10% in Indiana within 45 days.

IHSAA CANCELS BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT: The IHSAA announced Thursday afternoon that the boys basketball playoffs have been canceled (Boyd, NWI Times). Its decision came just hours after Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb mandated that all state schools remain closed until May 1 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The state tournament was initially postponed March 13. “It is with great sadness and disappointment that we inform Hoosiers of the cancellation of the remaining games of the 2020 IHSAA boys basketball tournament series,” IHSAA Commissioner Bobby Cox said in a press release. “While the Association maintained every hope of continuance, it is now evident those hopes are now unreachable.”

INDIANA BLOOD SHORTAGE 'SEVERE': The chief executive officer of the American Red Cross in Indiana says the lack of blood donations throughout the state and country is severe (Brown, Inside Indiana Business). Governor Eric Holcomb last week encouraged healthy Hoosiers to give blood as part of his directives related to the pandemic. However, Chad Priest says numerous blood drive cancellations nationwide due to the coronavirus outbreak are the main cause of the shortage. In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, Priest talked about the issues causing the blood supply to dwindle. "One is that as businesses and schools are canceling drives, we're losing drives at a pretty rapid clip," said Priest. "So far in the United States, we've had 4,000 drives canceled just related to COVID-19. To put that into perspective, that's 100,000 units of lost blood donations, so it's pretty intense. In Indiana alone, that's about 150 drives as of late (Wednesday) night for about 4,950 units lost and these cancellations (are) coming in every single day and so we are working very hard to pivot."

WAYNE TOWNSHIP SCHOOLS SENDS FOOD TO BUS STOPS: All schools across Indiana are now closed to help combat the spread of the coronavirus. This means many students are without meals they rely on. Indianapolis' Metropolitan School District of Wayne Township has come up with a unique solution to feed children (Weddle, Indiana Public Media). Earlier this week, Superintendent Jeff Butts stands outside Rhoades Elementary on the city’s west side, as cafeteria workers load coolers of food onto a yellow school bus. The staff are wearing goofy St. Patrick’s Day glasses and laughing as they push a dolly full of the chilled food. Butts says the district prioritized getting packaged meals directly to students, during this first week of school closures due to the coronavirus.

McCONNELL DETAILS 3RD GOP VIRUS BILL: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), speaking from the Senate floor, outlined what will be included in the Republican package and said lawmakers must take "bold steps" amid the growing outbreak. "It is critical that we move swiftly and boldly to begin to stabilize our economy, preserve Americans' jobs, get money to workers and families and keep up our fight on the health front. That is exactly, exactly what our proposal will do," McConnell said (The Hill). "These are not ordinary policies. This is no ordinary time," he added. The GOP proposal focuses on four areas: small businesses; direct financial help for Americans; help for impacted industries; and boosting the public health response to the coronavirus. For small businesses, McConnell said the GOP proposal will include "hundreds of billions" in loans to help "address the immediate cash-flow problems." The GOP proposal is expected to forgive the portion of loans that go toward paying workers or other payments like rent. The GOP plan will include additional tax relief for businesses to try to help them maintain their payroll while firms are closed or restricted in response to the coronavirus. The legislation is also expected to provide direct cash assistance to some Americans. Republicans are considering putting an income cap on who would get the cash assistance —$75,000 for an individual and $150,000 for a couple.

STATE DEPARTMENT URGES AGAINST FOREIGN TRAVEL: The State Department on Thursday issued a level four travel advisory applying to all countries, instructing Americans not to travel internationally and urging U.S. citizens abroad to return home amid the coronavirus pandemic (The Hill). The move represents the most drastic warning the department has issued to Americans traveling abroad as the world grapples with the coronavirus outbreak that has spread to over 150 countries and sickened close to 10,000 people in the United States. “The Department of State advises U.S. citizens to avoid all international travel due to the global impact of COVID-19. In countries where commercial departure options remain available, U.S. citizens who live in the United States should arrange for immediate return to the United States, unless they are prepared to remain abroad for an indefinite period,” the advisory posted Thursday afternoon states.

CDC APPEARS TO BE ON SIDELINE: As the United States enters a critical phase in fighting the coronavirus pandemic, the country’s leading public health agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, appears to be on the sidelines, with its messages increasingly disrupted or overtaken by the White House (Washington Post). Neither CDC Director Robert Redfield nor Anne Schuchat — the principal deputy director who has played key roles in the agency’s emergency responses stretching back two decades, including the 2009 influenza pandemic — have appeared on the podium during White House briefings by the coronavirus task force for more than a week. Redfield did join a smaller briefing Wednesday afternoon, for the first time since March 9. He and three other task force members stood with President Trump and Vice President Pence for the day’s second task force appearance. The event, which lasted seven minutes, followed a task force meeting with nurses groups, according to the White House. Trump and Pence were the only ones who spoke, and they took no questions. The CDC, which has come under fire because of protracted delays in the rollout of agency-developed test kits, has not conducted its own telephone briefings for reporters in more than a week. Recent CDC recommendations on school closures and mass gatherings were overtaken by different guidelines issued by the coronavirus task force, creating confusion, experts and officials said. “It is confusing for the public to have CDC say no gatherings of more than 50 people, and the next day, the task force says no gatherings of more than 10 people,” said Tom Inglesby, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

HPI DAILY ANALYSIS: I've had credible sources tell me it would take about six weeks to set up a statewide vote-by-mail system. If that's the case, then the Indiana Election Board should reschedule the May 5 primary to late summer and set up a statewide vote-by-mail system. Health experts are predicting this pandemic could be a "roller coaster," so just postponing the current system could present the same problems we face today to a later date. Voting by mail has worked well in a number of Western states. It also solves many problems with a lack access, logistics and personnel. It would be best to unveil these changes prior to the November election, which cannot be postponed. - Brian A. Howey

Presidential 2020

55% IN ABC POLL BACKS TRUMP'S HANDLING OF PANDEMIC: As a deepening public health crisis rocks the nation, a new ABC News/Ipsos poll released Friday shows a far different portrait of a country than from only one week ago, as nearly three in four Americans now say their lives have been upended in some way by the novel coronavirus and President Donald Trump's approval for his handling of the outbreak is on the rise. In the new poll, 55% of Americans approve of the president's management of the crisis, compared to 43% who disapprove. Trump’s approval on this issue is up from last week, when the numbers were nearly reversed. Only 43% approved of Trump's handling of the pandemic and 54% disapproved in last week's poll.

CONNECTICUT DELAYS PRIMARY: Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont announced he would postpone the state's presidential primary, which was scheduled for April 28, amid concerns over the spread of coronavirus, making the state the sixth to delay its 2020 primary (CBS News). "In coordination with other states and our Secretary of the State, and in an effort to carry out Democracy while keeping public health a top priority, I have decided to move our presidential primary to June 2nd," Lamont first stated in a tweet.

GABBARD DROPS OUT, ENDORSES BIDEN: Tulsi Gabbard, the Hawaii congresswoman who attracted little mainstream Democratic support but gained traction with some on the far left and the far right, has ended her campaign for the presidency, she said Thursday (Washington Post). Gabbard said she was endorsing former vice president Joe Biden, the current leader in the delegate count. “Although I may not agree with the vice president on every issue, I know that he has a good heart, and he’s motivated by his love for our country and the American people. I’m confident that he will lead our country guided by the spirit of aloha, respect and compassion, and thus help heal the divisiveness that has been tearing our country apart,” she said in a video posted to Twitter.

Congress

SEN. YOUNG BACKS DIRECT PAYMENTS: U.S. Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.) says he supports a Treasury Department proposal to send direct money to Americans and economic support to small businesses (Chapman, Indiana Public Media). President Donald Trump has already signed two federal emergency relief packages for the novel coronavirus – one for ramping up testing resources and a second one to cover the cost of testing and increase in unemployment. Young says this third package, a proposal from the U.S. Department of the Treasury, would send $1,000 to every American adult and provide $500 for children. Though those details may change dramatically over the next few days. “Both sides, Republicans and Democrats are really trying to get assistance out the door, as quickly as possible," Young says. "Of course we’re trying to do this very responsibly in light of all the money that’s involved. But time is of the essence.”

BURR ACCUSED OF STOCK DUMP: Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., sold as much as $1.7 million in stocks just before the market dropped in February amid fears about the coronavirus epidemic (AP). Senate records show that Burr and his wife sold between roughly $600,000 and $1.7 million in more than 30 separate transactions in late January and mid-February, just before the market began to fall and as government health officials began to issue stark warnings about the effects of the virus. Several of the stocks were in companies that own hotels. The stock sales were first reported by ProPublica and The Center for Responsive Politics. Most of them came on Feb. 13, just before Burr made a speech in North Carolina in which he predicted severe consequences from the virus, including closed schools and cutbacks in company travel, according to audio obtained by National Public Radio and released Thursday.

REPORTS SAY SEN. LOEFFLER DUMPED STOCK: The Senate’s newest member sold off seven figures’ worth of stock holdings in the days and weeks after a private, all-senators meeting on the novel coronavirus that subsequently hammered U.S. equities (Daily Beast). Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) reported the first sale of stock jointly owned by her and her husband on Jan. 24, the very day that her committee, the Senate Health Committee, hosted a private, all-senators briefing from administration officials, including the CDC director and Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, on the coronavirus. “Appreciate today’s briefing from the President’s top health officials on the novel coronavirus outbreak,” she tweeted about the briefing at the time. That first transaction was a sale of stock in the company Resideo Technologies valued at between $50,001 and $100,000. The company’s stock price has fallen by more than half since then, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average overall has shed approximately 10,000 points, dropping about a third of its value.

SO DID SEN. FEINSTEIN: Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California and three of her Senate colleagues sold off stocks worth millions of dollars in the days before the coronavirus outbreak crashed the market, according to reports (Fox News). The data is listed on a U.S. Senate website containing financial disclosures from Senate members. Feinstein, who serves as ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and her husband sold between $1.5 million and $6 million in stock in California biotech company Allogene Therapeutics, between Jan. 31 and Feb. 18, The New York Times reported.

General Assembly

BRAY STATEMENT ON HOLCOMB RESPONSE: Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray (R-Martinsville) made the following statement today on the latest updates from Gov. Holcomb regarding the state's COVID-19 response (Howey Politics Indiana): “We have been in consistent communication with the governor and his team as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve. The measures the governor announced today are important steps to help protect the health, safety and finances of Hoosiers. We will continue to monitor the situation and take necessary steps as they become clear. I am thankful for the leadership the governor has shown, and I remain confident that Hoosiers will work together to overcome the challenges that lay ahead.”

HUSTON REACTION: This is a statement from House Speaker Todd Huston (R-Fishers) on Gov. Eric Holcomb's announcement today about his executive orders supporting unemployed Hoosier workers, schools and the economy (Howey Politics Indiana): “Hoosiers across this state are feeling the effects of this unprecedented health event, and Gov. Eric Holcomb is taking bold, decisive action to make sure Indiana is utilizing all available resources to help bridge the gap until the economy recovers. Cutting red tape for unemployed workers, delaying tax payments and penalties for Hoosiers and businesses, giving necessary guidance for schools, and providing flexibility to those who need social services programs are all important steps to providing relief and security."

LANANE ON CORONAVIRUS ACTIONS: Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane (D-Anderson) had the following response to the governor's latest update on COVID-19 response measures (Howey Politics Indiana): "I appreciate the governor updating the media and public on these latest developments in the state’s efforts to combat COVID-19. I applaud the actions taken to suspend utility disconnects, halt residential evictions and protect Hoosier’s health and incomes during these difficult times. However, I do want to relay Hoosiers' concerns about the availability of adequate tests to detect the virus and medical equipment for its treatment. I've heard much apprehension especially as we see an increase in the spread of the virus. In all, I want to encourage the governor to continue to communicate in a clear manner the state's guidance to Hoosiers on how we can defeat this growing health threat together."

HOUSE DEMS BACK HOLCOMB RESPONSE: House Democratic Leader Phil GiaQuinta (D-Fort Wayne) is pleased Governor Eric Holcomb embraced ideas from House Democrats to support Hoosiers during the COVID-19 pandemic. The governor signed executive orders that will provide economic relief for Hoosiers, small businesses and expand unemployment insurance benefits for those impacted by job loss (Howey Politics Indiana). “House Democrats were successful in their efforts to advocate for Hoosiers and get them the economic relief they will need over the coming months as we face the impacts of this virus," GiaQuinta said. “We will keep fighting for the economic security, food security and health security of every Hoosier during this uncertain and difficult time.”



State

GOVERNOR: HOLCOMB SIGNS HAND HELD PHONE BAN - Indiana is the 22nd state, including Illinois, to prohibit drivers from holding or using a handheld mobile device while operating a moving vehicle (Carden, NWI Times). The new restriction takes effect July 1 after Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb signed House Enrolled Act 1070 into law Wednesday night. Under the law, drivers still are free to use their phones if the device is mounted on a dashboard, or otherwise operated in hands-free mode. Motorists also can hold and use a mobile device while their vehicle is stopped. But a driver with a phone in his or her hand while their vehicle is moving — regardless of whether the device is being used — can be fined up to $500, and potentially lose their driver's license for repeat violations, according to the statute. At the same time, the sponsor of the new law, state Rep. Holli Sullivan, R-Evansville, said she hopes police take a year or so to educate drivers about the new mobile device restriction using written warnings, before officers begin issuing tickets for violations.

GOVERNOR: HOLCOMB SIGNS ABORTION REMAINS BILL - A new state law requires women completing a pill-induced abortion at home to be told they can return the embryonic remains to their clinic or hospital for disposal through burial or cremation (Carden, NWI Times). Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb signed Senate Enrolled Act 299 into law Wednesday. It takes effect July 1. Under the statute, women completing a pill-induced abortion away from a clinic or hospital would be encouraged — but not required — to collect the embryonic remains and return them for what supporters consider "dignified" disposal.

GOVERNOR: DETAILS OF HOLCOMB VIRUS RESPONSE - In addition to keeping all schools closed through at least May 1 and canceling state-mandated student testing, Gov. Eric Holcomb announced Thursday numerous other policies Indiana is implementing due to the coronavirus pandemic (Carden, NWI Times). They are:

Emergency: Extending the state of emergency — which gives the governor tremendous unilateral authority to limit activities and restrict movement — for another 30 days, after his current emergency order expires April 5.

Taxes: Indiana is joining the federal government in delaying the due date for paying income taxes to July 15 from April 15. The Indiana filing deadline also is moved to July 15. There will be no penalties for paying property taxes up to 60 days after the May 11 deadline.

Utilities: Providers of essential utility services, such as gas and electric, broadband, telecom, water and wastewater services are prohibited from discontinuing service to any customer during the public health emergency.

Unemployment: The state is interpreting Indiana's unemployment laws as broadly as possible to cover Hoosiers out of work due to COVID-19, including paying benefits to individuals who file their initial unemployment claims late. The Department of Workforce Development also is allowing Hoosiers to accrue unemployment eligibility if they take work leave due to coronavirus; seeking federal approval to provide unemployment benefits to typically non-eligible individuals, such as recent hires; and not assessing experience rate penalties on businesses who lay off workers because of COVID-19.

Housing: No residential eviction proceedings or foreclosure actions may be initiated during the public health emergency. Renters and homeowners still are required, however, to pay their rent or mortgage obligations. Public housing authorities are asked to extend deadlines for housing assistance recipients and required documentation to show eligibility for housing programs.

Social services: Healthy Indiana Plan and Children's Health Insurance Program participants are not required to make premium payments. Job search requirements are waived for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families applicants. The Family and Social Services Administration is seeking a federal waiver to extend renewals for existing Medicaid and HIP recipients. Telehealth services for mental health, substance use disorder and prescribing for Medicaid covered services are being expanded.

Insurance: The Indiana insurance commissioner is asking insurers to enact a 60-day moratorium on policy cancellations for non-payment of premiums, while not eliminating policyholder obligations to make payments. The commissioner also is asking health insurers to cover COVID-19 testing without prior authorization, and to not increase prices or coverage costs for COVID-19 medical care.

Bureau of Motor Vehicles: To limit the number of in-branch transactions, late fees are waived for driver's license and identification card renewals, vehicle registrations, titles, and other transactions. BMV offices are increasing spacing between employee terminals and limiting the number of waiting customers.

Veterans: Requirements are being relaxed to qualify for an award from the Military Family Relief Fund. Awards in excess of $2,500 may be approved by the director of the Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs.

Licensing: Mental health professionals are permitted to practice via telemedicine. Advance practice registered nurses can provide services in multiple locations. The state health commissioner may waive nursing home certificate of need requirements to respond to COVID-19 issues for long-term care facilities.

Budget: The state is pausing plans to use $300 million in budget reserves to pay for recently approved construction projects at state universities, none in Northwest Indiana, and instead will again consider borrowing funds for the projects.

GOVERNOR: PHYSICIANS SEEK VIRUS RESPONSE CHANGES: The Indiana State Medical Association is urging Gov. Eric Holcomb to direct several changes in policy that Hoosier physicians say will prevent the further spread of the new coronavirus disease, or COVID-19 (Howey Politics Indiana). The recommendations focus on telemedicine, testing and health care talent, and were sent on Wednesday in a letter to Gov. Holcomb based on input from physicians working on the forefront of the COVID-19 pandemic. ISMA is the largest physician organization in the state with 8,500 members. “Thanks to Gov. Holcomb and his administration, Indiana’s response to this public health crisis has been swift and effective in slowing the spread of COVID-19. But there is much more work to be done,” said Lisa Hatcher, MD, president of ISMA. “Our doctors, who are on the front lines of this pandemic, have firsthand knowledge on how to flatten the curve, and urge the governor to consider these additional steps that must be taken.”

GOVERNOR: DETAILS OF ISMA LETTER - Physicians are requesting the State of Indiana provide for: Greater flexibility in the use of telemedicine so patients can check in with their physician from home instead of risking exposure to COVID-19 through a trip to their physician’s office. Ability to prescribe controlled substances through telemedicine without a prior in-person visit to minimize the exposure risk of in-person visits. All telemedicine visits to be reimbursed at the same level as an in-person visit. Available COVID-19 testing to be quickly processed and paid for by all payers, public and private. Allow physicians who are licensed in another state but not licensed in Indiana to legally work in the state on a temporary basis and reduce barriers to part-time physicians increasing their hours and filling shortages. Create incentives for health care workers to have childcare assistance so they can be available to help meet the increased health care demand.

COMMERCE: CHAMBER SETS UP VIRUS RESOURCE SITE - The Indiana Chamber of Commerce has created a statewide employer resource page to help businesses dealing with the coronavirus (Mills, Inside Indiana Business). The chamber says the site provides information under three umbrellas: Health, Tools You Can Use, and Government and Community Assistance. The group is also taking specific business questions that will be answered by staff and private sector professionals. “We are here for employers, local chambers and business groups in every county in the state,” Indiana Chamber President and Chief Executive Officer Kevin Brinegar.

COMMERCE: IU PROF SAYS BUSINESSES SHOULD HIBERNATE - COVID-19 is causing an unexpected economic winter, especially for small businesses in college towns like Bloomington. But that winter will end, according to one expert (Reschke, Bloomington Herald-Times). “So if I’m a business person, how do you survive so you can be back in business when the thaw comes?” asked Phil Powell, associate clinical professor of business economics at the Indiana University Kelley School of Business. So what should business owners in Bloomington do to survive until things get better? Powell suggested they approach their landlords, creditors, leasing agents, the people they rent equipment from and negotiate lower payments for the next four months in exchange for higher payments in the fall. “If I’m a banker, I want your business to survive as much as you do,” he said.

SPORTS: IU'S DOLSON EXPLAINS GOALS - Scott Dolson said he’s realized a dream. It began as an 8-year-old from Michigan City when Dolson watched the 1975 Indiana Hoosiers led by Quinn Buckner and Scott May suffer a heartbreaking loss to Kentucky in the Elite Eight (Brockway, CHNI Sports). The following year, Indiana posted its perfect 32-0 season to claim its third national championship overall and first under Bobby Knight. As a 9-year-old that year, Dolson attended Knight’s basketball school. That’s when Doslon’s love affair with Indiana athletics, specifically Indiana basketball, started. Dolson went on to attend IU as an undergraduate, work as a basketball student manager under Knight from 1984-88 and earn a degree in management. This week, after stints heading IU’s varsity club and serving as Indiana AD Fred Glass’ top lieutenant, Dolson was chosen as IU’s next athletic director, pending April approval from the Board of Trustees. In the short term, Dolson said his top priority is working with Glass in the coming months to help IU navigate through the coronavirus pandemic. With IU canceling all athletic activities per Big Ten directives, Hoosier student-athletes are spread across the state, country and globe, back with families, waiting through an uncertain future. Dolson said IU’s athletic staff is still working on campus this week with a skeleton crew. Everyone is keeping within a safe social distance per national guidelines, Dolson said, working in their offices with doors shut. “We're working on potentially, our head of strength and conditioning, Tom Morris, is being creative with this, how can we create virtual workouts through Zoom, support our student-athletes from a distance, trying to be creative on that,” Dolson said. “We'll continue to do with that with the main goal of keeping everyone connected, keeping them calm, hoping as this passes we can bring everybody together sooner than later.”

Nation

WHITE HOUSE: PENCE SAYS MILLIONS OF MASKS AVAILABLE - Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday said there has been a vast increase in the supply of medical face masks, despite complaints that health care providers currently lack enough necessary protective equipment to treat a surge of novel coronavirus patients (ABC News). "Honeywell alone is repurposing a factory that was destined for Mexico to produce another 120 million masks per year. 3M is increasing output to 420 million masks per year. We really -- we have put a priority, at the president's direction, on making sure those that are providing health care services to America have the protection to keep themselves and their families safe," Pence said. When asked when the masks would be ready, Pence said, "3M is increasing their output to 420 million a year. At production in January, they made 35 million per month at that facility." "And we are prioritizing the distribution of those, but the other thing -- and we'll emphasize this with governors this afternoon -- is we are working with governors to make sure that health care providers, the hospitals, and the clinics in their state are placing orders now that this tremendous increase in supply, particularly with industrial masks, is now available," he added.

WHITE HOUSE: TRUMP SHRUGS OFF RESPONSIBILITY - President Donald Trump shrugged off responsibility for providing more medical equipment and gear to strapped hospitals combating coronavirus, saying Thursday there are "millions" of masks available to workers but that it was up to individual states to ensure they are well stocked amid the pandemic (CNN). His comments contrasted sharply to pleas from health care workers who are running out of surgical masks and fear there won't be enough ventilators to treat patients who contract the disease. And it came as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began advising nurses they could begin using bandanas or scarves as makeshift masks when treating patients with coronavirus -- guidance Trump said he was unfamiliar with and that came as a surprise to the White House when it was reported early Thursday. Increasingly defensive in the face of questions about his administration's response, Trump said his administration was scaling up its purchase of masks but that states would need to sort out who gets them. He said "nobody in their wildest dreams" would have anticipated the need for more ventilators, which hospitals worry may run short as more patients require them.

WHITE HOUSE: TRUMP REFOCUSES BLAME ON CHINA - President Trump on Thursday sought to refocus blame on China for its failure to contain coronavirus before it morphed into a global pandemic -- pushing back on propaganda efforts by the totalitarian Chinese government to blame the U.S. (Fox News). "It could have been contained to that one area in China where it started," Trump said. "And certainly the world is paying a big price for what they did." Earlier in the briefing he said that, “if people would have known about it it could have been stopped in place, stopped right where it came from, China,” he said, after calling it the “Chinese virus.”

WHITE HOUSE: KUSHNER SETS UP SHADOW TASK FORCE - Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and a senior adviser, has created his own team of government allies and private industry representatives to work alongside the administration’s official coronavirus task force, adding another layer of confusion and conflicting signals within the White House’s disjointed response to the crisis (Washington Post). Kushner, who joined the administration’s coronavirus efforts last week, is primarily focused on attempting to set up drive-through testing sites with the help of technology and retail executives, as well as experts in health-care delivery. The goal, officials familiar with the work said, is to have limited testing in a handful of cities running by Friday and to expand the project from there. Some members of Kushner’s team are working out of offices on the seventh floor of Health and Human Services headquarters — one floor above the office of HHS secretary Alex Azar — while others are working out of an office in the West Wing of the White House, officials said.

WHITE HOUSE: TRUMP PRAISES DR. ADAMS - The U.S. surgeon general caught the eye of Donald Trump in a tried-and-true way: praising the 45th president on television (AP). At a recent briefing with his coronavirus task force standing behind him, Trump turned to Dr. Jerome Adams and declared the previously low-profile 20th surgeon general among the administration’s “stars” to emerge from this crisis. “I watched him the other day. It was such a fantastic job you did, and I really appreciate it,” Trump said. Trump didn’t specify what media appearance he was referring to.

WHITE HOUSE: COUNTER TERRORISM CHIEF FIRED BY GRENELL - The acting director of the National Counterterrorism Center was fired Wednesday night in what insiders fear is a purge by the Trump administration of career professionals at an organization set up after 9/11 to protect the nation from attacks, according to two former U.S. officials familiar with the matter (Washington Post). Russell E. Travers, a highly-regarded career professional with more than 40 years of government service, was fired by acting director of national intelligence Richard Grenell, according to one former official, who like others interviewed for this story spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter. Travers, who took up the acting position last August, has been resistant to pressure to make personnel cuts at the center, which has been undergoing a review of its mission and effectiveness.

WHITE HOUSE: TRUMP SCHEDULE - President Trump will have lunch with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at 1:30 p.m. in the private dining room. He will participate in a phone call with small business owners on the coronavirus response in the Oval Office at 3:45 p.m.

TREASURY: MNUCHIN PREDICTS BIG 4TH Q - Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin acknowledged Thursday the U.S. faces months of economic contraction, but predicted a “gigantic fourth quarter” as Americans release “pent up demand” and return to “a normal world” (Politico). In an interview with Fox Business Network, Mnuchin said he believes the economy will see its largest decline in this year’s second quarter, from April through June, followed by a third-quarter recovery as advancements in viral treatments and vaccines eventually halt the spread of the virus.

BUSINESS: HALEY RESIGNS FROM BOEING BOARD - Nikki Haley, former United Nations ambassador, resigned from Boeing's board effective immediately over objections of a possible government aid package for the planemaker, one of many initiatives being discussed by the federal government amid the coronavirus crisis (Fox News). "Ambassador Haley informed the Company that, as a matter of philosophical principle, she does not believe that the Company should seek support from the Federal Government, and therefore decided to resign from the Board."

COMMERCE: WALMART SET TO HIRE 150K; PARKING LOT VIRUS TESTS - Walmart Inc. is hiring 150,000 temporary workers to meet surging demand for everyday goods, as the U.S. retail giant prepares to start coronavirus tests in store parking lots this weekend (IBJ). The new employees will largely work in distribution centers and many will become permanent staff over time, Walmart said in a statement. The company is also slated to begin virus tests in the Chicago area as soon as Friday, in conjunction with health officials and drugstore chain Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. “Everything is ready to go,” Dan Bartlett, Walmart’s executive vice president of corporate affairs, said on a call with reporters. “We have the tents. It should be up and running soon.” The tests will be primarily for health-care workers and first responders.

MARKETS: CRISIS COMING ON RISKY CORPORATE DEBT - Serious strains are starting to appear in the $1.2 trillion market for loans to high-risk companies, which have borrowed record sums in recent years as investors chased bigger yields (Wall Street Journal). The market, which survived the 2008 financial crisis, has become overstretched since then, say regulators and economists, who worry that it is now so big and risky its problems could amplify any economic damage caused by the coronavirus crisis. “What I’ve always worried about is that the existence of overleveraged corporations will exacerbate a downturn that occurs for any reason,” said former Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen in an interview. The epicenter of risk involves a subset of that total: $1.2 trillion in leveraged loans, junk-rated debt secured by corporate assets much like mortgages are backed by homes. The market has exploded, ballooning by almost 50%—or $400 billion—since the start of 2015, as investors desperate for the high interest payments these loans provided threw cash at borrowers.

MEDIA: SUNDAY TALK - NBC "Meet the Press": Panel: Jeh Johnson, David French, Doris Kearns Goodwin and Kristen Welker. ABC "This Week": Panel: Chris Christie, Rahm Emanuel, Mary Bruce and Tom Bossert. CBS "Face the Nation": Frederick W. Smith, Gary Cohn and Scott Gottlieb. "Fox News Sunday" (John Roberts is guest-hosting): Panel: Karl Rove, Donna Brazile and Marty Makary. ... Power Player (rerun): Lisa Marie Riggins. CNN "Inside Politics": Toluse Olorunnipa, Jeff Zeleny, Ashish Jha and Jackie Kucinich.

CALIFORNIA: GOV. NEWSOM ORDERS STATE SHUTDOWN - California’s 40 million residents should stay home indefinitely and venture outside only for essential jobs, errands and some exercise, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Thursday, warning that the coronavirus threatens to overwhelm the state’s medical system (AP). The move, the most sweeping by any state so far, was an exclamation point at the end of a week of increasingly aggressive moves meant to keep the virus in check by forcing people to stay away from each other as often as possible. “I can assure you home isolation is not my preferred choice, I know it’s not yours, but it’s a necessary one,” Newsom said at an evening news conference streamed on social media.

Local

WEST LAFAYETTE: MAYOR DENNIS URGES LANDLORDS TO BE LENIENT -  West Lafayette Mayor John Dennis is asking landlords for leniency amid the coronavirus outbreak. Tenants tell him they're worried about paying rent on-time (Upshaw, WLFI-TV). This comes after the new statewide rule requiring bars and restaurants to not allow dine-in customers. Business owners are expecting less business from the new rule and for many servers, tips make up a large portion of their livelihood. Mayor Dennis is urging landlords to extend rent due dates if possible. “If the landlords are in a position to maybe just extend a little grace period for some of their tenants, maybe realize that times are very tough and there are circumstances beyond the business operators control,” said Dennis. He said he understands the hardship this virus is bringing to both renters and landlords. “I know that people who own buildings are just as hungry as everybody else,” said Dennis. “They've got bills to pay, they've got salaries to pay but I think we need to look at ways to try and help each other so that we can make sure that when we get through this, which we will so that things can snap back to normal quickly.”

SOUTH BEND: MAYOR MUELLER DECLARES EMERGENCY - South Bend and St. Joseph County officials’ emergency declaration and advisory against non-essential travel Thursday stopped short of ordering local retailers to close, but it came as the latest blow to businesses amid the coronavirus outbreak (Sheckler, South Bend Tribune). Mayor James Mueller announced the emergency declaration at a news conference Thursday morning, just as county health officials announced two more confirmed cases of COVID-19, bringing the local total to five. Mueller said officials had issued a travel advisory at the “watch” level, which does not include the fines that he said could be issued to people who violate the higher “warning” level. Mueller warned against people traveling except for needs such as work, health care, child care and food — including trips both to grocery stores and to get carry-out from restaurants. He said Mishawaka was also considering a local emergency declaration but had not yet followed suit. “While our number of positive cases, at five, is still low, and our hospitals still have capacity, this situation can get out of hand fast,” Mueller said.

VALPARAISO: PREMATURE TO TAPPING RAINY DAY FUND - City and county officials say it is premature to consider a proposal by a Valparaiso councilman to tap local government reserve funds to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic (NWI Times). "The city may need those rainy day funds to deliver basic services," Valparaiso Mayor Matt Murphy said Thursday afternoon, noting the federal and state government are on the cusp of providing such aid.

JEFFERSONVILLE: MEASURES PASS TO PROTECT CITY EMPLOYEES - The Jeffersonville City Council has passed emergency measures that aim to protect city employees as concerns over the novel coronavirus continue to grow (Boyle, News & Tribune). On Thursday, council members unanimously passed a resolution that will allow city employees to work from home, if they have the ability to do so. If and when the city is forced to limit its functions as a result of social distancing and self-quarantines, the resolution also makes sure that workers whose duties aren't necessary will be paid for the duration of the State of Emergency. “It’s widely important that we still continue to take care of our folks who take care of the city on a daily basis," council president Matt Owen said. "They do a good job for us. The City of Jeffersonville has some very dedicated employees, and we’re going to make sure that we take care of everybody through this whole situation until things get back to more of a normal.”

FRANKLIN: DRIVE-THRU LUNCHES AVAILABLE FOR KIDS - Franklin Community Schools created a drive-thru at Northwood Elementary School. Each family can get two days worth of lunches for each child under the age of 18 (WRTV). The school system received a state waiver so any Franklin child in need of food could be fed. Usually such a food distribution could only benefit kids on free or reduced lunch. "Oh, it's stressful especially helping the kids with their schooling and making sure they are fed properly," Krystine Kelly said. "The lunch ladies are doing an amazing job."

WHITING: MAYOR STAHURA CLOSES CITY HALL - Whiting Mayor Joseph Stahura issued two new executive orders on Thursday closing city hall and banning travel for certain city and public safety staff (NWI Times). Starting Friday, Whiting City Hall will be closed to the public and those making utility payments are asked to drop payments in the secure box on the east side of City Hall or they can call in a payment by phone. Another executive order, effective immediately, banned Whiting public safety personnel and department heads from traveling outside of the U.S. In addition, travel by airplane, train and cruise ships are also forbidden for personnel and department heads who are needed for critical response.

PRINCETON: TOYOA SUSPENDS PRODUCTION - Toyota announces they are extending the length of its production suspension at all of its automobile and components plants in North America (WFIE-TV). Toyota says they will be closed from March 23 through April 3, resuming production on April 6. They say their service parts depots and vehicle logistics centers will continue to operate. According to the news release, Toyota track team members and administrative professional contractors will continue to be paid during the two-week suspension.

MICHIGAN CITY: LIGHTHOUSE PLACE MALL CLOSES UNTIL MARCH 29 - One of Northwest Indiana's largest and busiest shopping centers will be closed for more than a week over concerns about the spread of the coronavirus (NWI Times). Lighthouse Place Premium Outlets in Michigan City closed Wednesday night, and will remain closed through March 29.

NEWBURGH: STATE OF EMERGENCY DECLARED - Newburgh announces they have declared a state of emergency and urge all citizens to follow CDC guidelines of social distancing and gathering limitations (WFIE-TV). According to the news release, the town council has been diligently communicating and developing response plans to reduce public interaction and protect citizens and employees. The news release states the public can consider the sewer system in this time of need. It states a label may say biodegradable or ‘flushable,’ however it can take longer than toilet paper to break up.

GREENFIELD: TEACHER TESTS POSITIVE - A Greenfield-Central Community Schools teacher tested positive for the coronavirus.  The Hancock County Health Department made the announcement Thursday afternoon (CBS4). The teacher works for Greenfield Intermediate School, but they are unable to release any personal information about the teacher due to privacy laws. The last time the patient had contact with others at school was on March 9. The health department wants any Greenfield Intermediate School students, teachers, or staff who have COVID-19-related symptoms to contact their healthcare provider first and then also contact the Hancock County Health Department at (317) 477-1125.

ANDERSON: COACH HELD DIES - Longtime Anderson High School basketball coach Norm Held, who led the Indians to four state finals, has died at the age of 85 (Anderson Herald-Bulletin). Held passed away Thursday morning in Florida, officials at Loose Funeral Home in Anderson confirmed. Held coached the Indians from 1975 to 1993, compiling a record of 343-114. His teams won five semistate championships, nine regional titles, 10 sectionals and five North Central Conference crowns. He coached two Mr. Basketballs at Anderson, Troy Lewis in 1984 and Maurice (Kojak) Fuller in 1993.

VANDERBURGH COUNTY: FIRST VIRUS CASE LAUNCHES PROBE -  Dreaded for weeks but not unanticipated, the arrival of coronavirus in Vanderburgh County will launch an immediate investigation (Evansville Courier & Press). Deaconess Health System announced Thursday afternoon that a local resident tested positive for the potentially deadly pathogen, having been sent for curbside testing after a free Deaconess Clinic LIVE video visit. It is the first confirmed case of coronavirus in Vanderburgh County — and it now sets local investigators in motion. Epidemiologists and medical staff of the Vanderburgh County Health Department and Indiana State Department of Health will work to identify who the patient has been in contact with recently and determine whether those people have been exposed, said Joe Gries, the local department's administrator. "We will review that information with the patient so we can start to determine if other people need to be quarantined and tested," Gries said.

MADISON CONTY: NON-ESSENTIAL BUSINESSES ORDERED CLOSED - The Madison County Health Department has ordered all non-essential businesses to close for more than two weeks (WTHR-TV). The order will go into effect at 8 a.m. Friday, March 20 and last through Monday, April 6. Closures include: hair salons, nail salons, spas, barber shops, tattoo parlors, liquor stores, electronic stores, department stores, hobby and craft stores, automotive dealerships, furniture stores, clothing stores, resale stores, and any other retail stores that do not sell food or home supplies,. These closures are in addition to already mandated closures. According to a release, facilities exempt from this order include: healthcare facilities, pharmacies, facilities that sell or produce food products, gas stations, auto repair shops including automotive dealership repair operations, factories, hardware stores and other business services that do not allow public access to their facility. Funeral homes must be limited to family only with 10 people or less in attendance. "We apologize, but this is beyond our control. As long as the community works with us, we will make in impact," Dr. Abbott, president of the Madison County Health Board said. “We need to be proactive; not reactive. We are 2-3 days behind many of the procedures being implemented in Indianapolis. They are getting hit hard already in emergency departments and we need to take these steps to protect the community.”

JOHNSON COUNTY: TOWNSHIP FIREFIGHTERS TEST NEGATIVE FOR VIRUS - Officials say 10 members of the White River Township Fire Department have ended their quarantine (Indiana Public Media). The firefighters returned to duty Wednesday. The department quarantined them Sunday after they responded to a call of a man who was having trouble breathing. The man was in cardiac arrest when the team arrived. The 60-year-old man later died. Fire department officials say his symptoms were consistent with those of the coronavirus so as a precautionary measure the crew members self-quarantined while the state tested the man for the virus. Tests found the man did not have the virus.

DELAWARE COUNTY: EMERGENCY DECLARATION - Delaware County's board of commissioners and the mayor of Muncie signed and enacted a disaster emergency declaration Thursday, stating that certain measures must be put into place to slow the spread of COVID-19 (Daily News). "Now is the time to act, not out of fear, but out of compassion, to prevent the spread of this terrible illness," a press release from the City of Muncie states. As per the declaration, the following are changes that will be implemented in the city and county: On recommendation from the Delaware County's health officer, all local barbershops, hair salons, nail salons, tattoo parlors, gyms, recreational sports facilities, indoor play areas, private clubs and fraternal organizations shall be closed to the public, the declaration states.

PORTER COUNTY: HOSPITAL PUTS UP RESPONSE TENT - A white tent was being pitched Thursday morning just outside the emergency room door at Porter Regional Hospital in what is being described as a precautionary measure in the event there is a surge for COVID-19 testing, according to a hospital official (Kasarda, NWI Times). "Porter Regional Hospital is currently testing symptomatic patients with COVID-19 risk factors who arrive to its emergency department with a physician's order, have been screened using the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's screening criteria and are approved for testing by the Indiana State Department of Health," according to Kelly Credit, regional director of network marketing and communications.

TIPPECANOE COUNTY: FIRST VIRUS CASE REPORTED - The Tippecanoe County Health Department announced Thursday that a person within the county has been diagnosed as "presumptive positive" for COVID-19. The person recently traveled to Paris and is currently at IU Health Arnett Hospital (WLFI-TV). The Indiana State Department of Health reported 17 new cases of coronavirus Thursday. It comes a day after another Tippecanoe County resident, not currently in the county, was diagnosed. As we reported, health leaders said that person is being held in Orange County, Florida and was traveling there. Dr. Jeremy Adler said they last were in Tippecanoe County March 10.

BENTON COUNTY: DECLARES EMERGENCY - Benton County commissioners declared a public health emergency Wednesday night, saying it is necessary to support the community during the coronavirus pandemic (WLFI-TV). The resolution requires Benton County residents to follow orders from the governor, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and any state guidelines put in place to reduce the spread of COVID-19. It also says the county's emergency operations center will plan, coordinate and implement Benton County's response. In addition, the county will request reimbursement for costs in responding to the emergency.

ST. JOSEPH COUNTY: CITY-COUNTY BUILDING REMAINS OPEN - The County-City Building will remain open as of this time, St. Joseph County officials said Thursday, but access to county offices will vary in response to the coronavirus outbreak (South Bend Tribune). Visitors and those working in the building are asked to follow health guidelines to stay home if sick; wash and sanitize hands; and stay 6 feet apart. Many offices are closed to the public but you can call them, including the assessor, the coroner, MACOG, veterans services, and weights and measures. The auditor’s office is closed to the public, but requests for information will be handled by phone and email, and the drop box is available.

WHITE COUNTY: $3M INCENTIVE FOR INDIANA BEACH BUYER - To make the closed-down Indiana Beach more attractive to potential buyers, White County is offering a $3 million incentive (Wolf, Kokomo Tribune). In a dual meeting Tuesday, the White County Commissioners and the White County Council each voted in favor of a resolution offering that incentive, which will be funded by the White County Windfarm Economic Development Fund. County Commissioner David Diener said that no taxpayer money would be used in the incentive if it’s done this way. That money was collected from the windfarms coming into White County to spur economic growth elsewhere, said attorney Rick Hall, who the county hired for his expertise in economic development financing. There’s no time limit on the incentive, so if the amusement park doesn’t get a buyer this summer, the $3 million could still be available in the fall. “But I would not expect it to drag out,” said Commissioner John Heimlich.