INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana's statewide mask order will remain in place but tougher restrictions on businesses and crowd sizes aren't being reinstated despite recent sharp increases in COVID-19 hospitalizations and rates of new infections, Gov. Eric Holcomb said Wednesday.
Holcomb said some people were showing disregard for the safety of others, putting the ability of schools to remain open and health of those most at risk in jeopardy.
Holcomb decided three weeks ago to lift nearly all of Indiana's restrictions while extending the mask mandate, which was scheduled to expire Saturday. His new order will extend it for a month.
State health commissioner Dr. Kristina Box also announced that she, an adult daughter and young grandson tested positive for the coronavirus on Tuesday. Box said she wasn't suffering any COVID-19 symptoms, while her daughter and grandson had mild symptoms.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP's earlier story follows below.
Indiana's governor was set to announce a decision Wednesday on extending the state's face mask mandate amid sharp increases in COVID-19 hospitalizations and rates of new infections.
The State Department of Health on Wednesday more than doubled the number of counties designated as higher-risk locations for coronavirus spread. Twenty-two of Indiana's 92 counties were placed in orange or red levels under the agency's weekly tracking map update, while nine counties were at those levels last week.
Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb, who was scheduled to take part in a Wednesday afternoon briefing, announced three weeks ago that he was lifting nearly all of Indiana's restrictions on businesses and crowd sizes. He left in place the mask mandate, which is set to expire Saturday.
Holcomb has defended his action, urging residents to continue taking precautions and saying that the COVID-19 spread is being monitored daily.
“We need to underscore the point that our actions and our inactions have consequences, whether they're good or bad,” he told WANE-TV in Fort Wayne.
The highest-risk counties are scattered across the state, with clusters in northeastern Indiana, some rural counties west of Lafayette and those around Evansville in the southwestern corner.
Indiana's remaining 70 counties received yellow or blue ratings based on the number of new cases per 100,000 residents and the percentage of tests confirming COVID-19 infections.
The 1,357 COVID-19 hospitalizations as of Tuesday put Indiana at its highest level since mid-May, the Health Department reported. Such hospitalizations have grown by two-thirds since Sept. 22 — the day before Holcomb announced the changes.
State officials added 14 more coronavirus deaths on Wednesday to raise the state's death toll to 3,836, including confirmed and presumed coronavirus cases. That's an increase of 109 deaths in the past week.
The Health Department's daily update showed Indiana's seven-day rolling average of newly confirmed COVID-19 infections was nearly 1,600 as of Tuesday, an increase of 85% increase from three weeks earlier.
Concerns over more coronavirus illnesses and hospitalizations prompted health officials in northern Indiana's St. Joseph County to send a letter Tuesday asking that in-person religious services be stopped through March.
Five clusters of coronavirus infections have been traced to those attending religious services in the South Bend area since late August, deputy county health officer Dr. Mark Fox told the South Bend Tribune. The health agency has also recently warned some bars and restaurants to follow safety measures or face possible closure.
Amanda Harris, director of administration for South Bend City Church, said the church has been holding outdoor services at the city's baseball stadium since July and planned to stop in-person gatherings once it stops meeting at the stadium at the end of October.
“The letter didn't necessarily affect our plans but rather confirmed our belief that the decisions we have made up until this point are probably the right ones,” Harris said.
No immediate changes are planned for Roman Catholic parishes in the county as church leaders weren't aware of any coronavirus spread connected to their services, said Jennifer Simerman, a spokeswoman for the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.
“We are confident that the precautionary measures which we have put in place have been effective in preventing spread in our Catholic parishes,” Simerman said.
Casey Smith is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.