INDIANAPOLIS — While not mandating the wearing of masks, Indiana officials are strongly recommending it as they reverse course to keep capacity limits in place for restaurants, bars and entertainment venues over worries about a possible increase in coronavirus cases.
The state’s reopening plan had called for those restrictions to be lifted this weekend, but Gov. Eric Holcomb said he would keep them in place until at least July 18. The state will also continue its current 250-person limit on social gatherings.
Holcomb said he was concerned about recent increases in hospitalizations across Indiana involving COVID-19 cases and other states that have seen fresh outbreaks after lifting restrictions on bars and other businesses.
“While most of our health indicators remain positive, our data indicates a need to be extra cautious, which is why we will pause much of our Back on Track roadmap,” Holcomb said. “I urge Hoosiers to maintain vigilance in social distancing and wearing masks so we can continue to reopen our state for business.”
Since June 12, restaurants have been allowed 75 percent capacity in their dining rooms, while bars, nightclubs, bowling alleys, museums and amusement parks have been open at half capacity.
Through at least July 17, the following restrictions will continue:
Social gatherings following the CDC’s social distancing guidelines will be limited to up to 250 people. This limit applies to wedding receptions, parties and other events
Dining room food service may continue operations at up to 75 percent capacity as long as social distancing is observed. Bar seating in restaurants may continue at 50 percent capacity. Bars and nightclubs may continue operations at 50 percent capacity as long as they adhere to social distancing guidelines
Cultural, entertainment and tourism sites; movie theaters, bowling alleys and similar facilities; amusement parks, water parks and similar facilities may continue operations at 50 percent capacity.
Beginning July 4, fairs, festivals and other outdoor events may open.
K-12 school operations were allowed to begin the 2020-21 academic year on Wednesday. Extra-curricular, co-curricular activities may resume July 6.
Outdoor visitation is required at assisted living facilities and nursing homes beginning July 4, and indoor visitation may begin.
“The volatility that we see, even in some areas of our own state, but especially around the country and especially around our borders is of concern,” Holcomb said.
The governor and State Health Commissioner Dr. Kris Box also announced a statewide initiative to encourage Hoosiers to wear masks.
The #MaskUpHoosiers initiative is launching with videos and photos of state government leaders, celebrities and Hoosiers from all walks of life sharing their reasons for wearing a mask in public.
“The steps that Hoosiers take every time they are around others, be it friends, co-workers, family or strangers, have a direct impact on the spread of COVID-19 and our state’s continued phased re-opening,” Holcomb said. “I thank you for wearing a mask when you are in public and encourage you to reflect on the lives you may be saving.”
Holcomb said he would not issue a statewide mask mandate but encouraged everyone to wear face coverings.
“We know it works,” he said. “I hope people don’t look at it as inconvenient but look at it as cool, like I’m doing my part, my patriotic duty to try to get us through this sooner rather than later.”
Dr. Kristina Box, the state health commissioner, said a mask order could backfire.
“My concern is it sometimes makes people almost more stubborn and stand their ground,” she said.
“Wearing a mask sends a statement that we care about others, and it is one of the best things we can do to protect ourselves and the people around us from COVID-19,” Box said.
“Each of us has someone in our lives we want to protect, and I encourage all Hoosiers to think of those individuals when deciding to put on a mask any time you’re in public.”
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Woody Myers, a physician and former state health commissioner, said Holcomb’s decision to ease restrictions increased the danger of greater coronavirus spread.
“Our focus should be implementing a statewide mask order and encouraging Indiana to stay home,” Myers said in a statement. “In addition, Indiana still needs to expand testing and prioritize our disproportionately impacted communities.”
The Indiana State Department of Health on Wednesday reported that 371 additional Hoosiers have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and 8 more have died.
The numbers mean 45,952 Indiana residents are known to have the novel coronavirus and 2,456 Hoosiers are confirmed to have died from COVID-19. Another 194 probable deaths have been reported, according to ISDH.
The total includes 539 confirmed cases and 25 deaths in La Porte County; 685 cases and 36 deaths in Porter County; 1,849 cases and 65 deaths in St. Joseph County; 4,872 cases and 240 deaths in Lake County; and 73 cases and 3 deaths in Starke County.