Gov. Eric Holcomb, Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch and Commerce Sec. Jim Schellinger in 2018. (HPI Photo by Brian A. Howey)
Gov. Eric Holcomb, Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch and Commerce Sec. Jim Schellinger in 2018. (HPI Photo by Brian A. Howey)
By BRIAN A. HOWEY

INDIANAPOLIS - While there’s Mount Baldy in Michigan City, Fort Wayne is known as the “Summit City” and Brown County features Browning Mountain a few miles past the Story Inn, Indiana is essentially sans prominent elevation.

But February 2020 will become known as Indiana’s peak when it comes to employment. It was that month that a record number 3.29 million of us went to work. There was an estimated 105,177 unemployed and seeking jobs. On Feb. 29, the United States also recorded a fateful milestone: It’s first coronavirus death.

It wouldn’t be until March 6 that the first Hoosier was reported with the virus, with just a dozen reported cases on March 12, and with an ominous pause, no new cases on Friday, March 13. Since then the cases have exploded, to 76 reported on March 22 and then 170 on Wednesday, and 338 on Thursday.

According to Indiana Workforce Development Director Fred Payne, the week ending on March 21 saw 62,777 new unemployment insurance claims. That compares to the 23,000 claims filed during the entire month of January.

Friday morning, The Indiana State Department of Health announced that 338 additional Hoosiers have been diagnosed with COVID-19 through testing at ISDH, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and private laboratories. That brings to 981 the total number of Indiana residents known to have the novel coronavirus following corrections to the previous day’s total. Twenty-four Hoosiers have died. Expect those numbers to continue to double in the days ahead. To date, 6,936 tests have been reported to ISDH, up from 4,651 on Thursday. Marion County had the most new cases, at 192. Lake County had 16 new cases, while Allen, Decatur and Hamilton counties each had 13. 

From peak employment, Hoosiers are now rapidly descending into the COVID-19 valley. February will become known as the month of Indiana’s employment peak. It prompted Gov. Eric Holcomb to lament on Wednesday, “Oh, what a difference a month makes.”

“In February we had a record number of people working in the state; more people working in the state of Indiana than ever before,” Holcomb said, adding that the jobless rate of 3.1% is likely to tumble for at least a couple more months. With the Indianapolis 500 delayed from May until Aug. 23, the trough is going to be a steep descent. “It will compound itself over a 60-day period,” Holcomb said.

The governor and Commerce Sec. Jim Schellinger can only hope this valley will be shaped like a “V”. 

While a hopeful President Trump has targeted Easter as the day for and economic “resurrection” and a reopening of the U.S. economy, Holcomb tempered that optimism, saying on Thursday Hoosiers aren’t just in for a race, or even a marathon when it comes to the number of cases, as well as lost jobs. “I hope this will remind us that this isn't just a marathon. This is a triathlon. This is something that will require us to not let up. We need to do more, not less."

As for the recovery, which he is hopeful will commence before the "start your engines" declaration on Aug. 23 with the Indianapolis 500 and its $500 million plus economic impact for the state, Holcomb said Wednesday, "The good news is, as Sec. Schellinger mentioned, we went into this in a strong position. The business community went into this in a strong position. They play things through. Our fundamentals were sound going into this. This is a virus we’re dealing with. This is not our economy pulling us back or dragging us down. So we will bounce back. The pent up capital, when we sail through this ... as a state, it will play to our strengths of certainty, predictability and continuity.”