INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Most of Indiana's coronavirus restrictions on businesses and crowd sizes will be lifted this weekend, but people will still be required to wear masks in public for another three weeks, Gov. Eric Holcomb said Wednesday.
Holcomb, a Republican running for reelection, has faced discontent from some conservatives over coronavirus restrictions. He said he would lift statewide capacity limits for restaurants and bars and crowd limits for social events beginning Saturday because he says the state has made progress in recent weeks in slowing the spread of COVID-19. The mask requirement will be extended until Oct. 17.
The restrictions rollback comes despite Indiana having a 6.6% seven-day average rate of positive COVID-19 tests according to the state health department. That exceeds the national average of 5%, which is the rate that the World Health Organization recommends before easing restrictions could be considered. Indiana's seven-day daily average of new confirmed infections was 862 as of Tuesday, which was about 12% higher than it was two weeks earlier.
Holcomb pointed to declines in the state's positivity rates and COVID-19 hospitalizations from July and August as justification for easing restrictions.
"We're moving in the right direction but I'm going to be faithful to observing and following the data and the professionals," Holcomb said. "So, if something changes in the future, for the better or worse, we have to make adjustments as well."
The mask order first took effect July 27 and has drawn ire among conservatives who believe his executive orders in response to the pandemic have gone too far. That has complicated his reelection campaign against Democratic challenger Woody Myers, with some saying they would support Libertarian candidate Donald Rainwater.
Myers, a physician and former state health commissioner, said Holcomb's action "is the wrong step — we need more vigilance, not less." He also warned of the danger of more cases as the weather cools and people spend more time indoors.
Myers has faulted Holcomb for not imposing the mask order sooner and the governor's decision in July to drop any possible criminal penalties for violators.
"The pandemic isn't going away anytime soon — Gov. Holcomb's decision today is simply wrong," Myers said in a statement.
State health officials on Wednesday added 10 more COVID-19 deaths to the state's toll. The newly recorded deaths raise the state's death toll during the pandemic to 3,530, including confirmed and presumed coronavirus cases, according to the Indiana State Department of Health. That is an increase of 58 deaths in the past week.
The governor's new order will require bar and restaurant customers to remain seated and maintain distancing. While limits on crowd sizes for social gatherings and meetings will be removed, those who organize events with more than 500 people must submit a written safety plan to local health officials.
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