The number of COVID-19 cases in Indiana now exceeds 22,500, after 650 more Hoosiers were diagnosed with the respiratory illness, according to data released Thursday.

But the figures mark a decline from the 862 new infections disclosed the previous day.

The Indiana State Department of Health also announced 31 additional deaths from the respiratory disease, taking the state’s total to 1,295.

By comparison, Indiana officials say an average of 150 to 160 Hoosiers have died from influenza during the flu’s seven-month season over the past five years. The COVID-19 deaths were recorded over roughly seven weeks.

Clark County has had 355 cases and 23 deaths, while Floyd County has had 224 cases and 28 deaths.

Parts of Indiana’s economy have begun reopening this week after Gov. Eric Holcomb ordered that he is gradually lifting some restrictions put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Some retailers, including malls, have started to resume operations. On Monday, restaurants can begin to serve food inside, although servers and kitchen staff must wear masks or face coverings and they must operate at half their pre-pandemic capacity.

Healthy habits

The state is able to start reopening its economy during the pandemic because Hoosiers have changed their habits, Dr. Kris Box, Indiana’s health commissioner, said during a briefing Thursday in Indianapolis. Those include staying home, especially when sick; disinfecting surfaces, washing hands; and avoided large groups, she said.

She urged people to continue those practices.

“Think of this like a diet,” she said. “If you don’t make lifelong changes and you go back to overeating and not exercising, the chances are you will regain the weight. To get through this, we have to remain vigilant and remember how COVID-19 spreads.”

Box said Indiana is about to begin a “new normal” that also includes wearing a mask, along with the other personal hygiene steps.

While some people might believe that wearing masks is “overkill,” she said masks protect others from the wearer’s potentially contagious respiratory droplets.

She said people walking or running outside while social distancing probably don’t need to wear masks. In a private office, she said masks may not be needed until others are present.

Unemployment 

Indiana had 43,277 initial unemployment claims filed during the week ending May 2, continuing a “downward trend” since the peak week for claims in March, said Fred Payne, commissioner of the Indiana Department of Workforce Development.

Payne said 1.4 million payments were made in April, totaling $749 million. Thus far in May, 313,000 payments worth $237 million have been made.

Payne acknowledged that call center volume remains high, as are wait times. And while there have been some improvements, he said the state is “nowhere close to where we want to be.”

“And we’re still nowhere close to claimants actually feeling that positive trend,” he said.