COVID photo

Gov. Eric Holcomb has extended the state’s mask mandate for another month as COVID-19 hospitalizations and rates of new infections have risen sharply in Indiana over the last three weeks.

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 the health of those most at risk in jeopardy.

“Those inactions are costing, just to be blunt, health care costs, lost wages, business failures. Don’t kid yourself, we’re all paying this bill,” Holcomb said.

“Throwing caution to the wind, ultimately ends up costing us all. It is the literal definition of whistling past the graveyard, pretending this isn’t around us.”

The governor 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 through Nov. 14.

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; and believed the infections stemmed from her grandson’s home day care site.

Holcomb wore a face mask during the online briefing from his Statehouse office for the first time, saying he would be undergoing a coronavirus test later Wednesday and planned to quarantine at the governor’s office until he has the results. Some office staff members were also being tested.

Holcomb’s Democratic challenger in the November election, Dr. Woody Myers, a former state health commissioner, said neither Holcomb nor President Donald Trump were showing leadership in dealing with the pandemic. Myers said he wasn’t surprised Indiana’s coronavirus statistics were going in the wrong direction because many people were acting as if all activity was back to normal.

“It’s not possible in a health care crisis to, on the one hand, say, ‘We’ve got to be more vigilant, we’ve got to stop doing this, stop doing that’ and then, on the other hand, say, ‘Oh by the way, we’re going to leave it on the most-open stage there is’,” Myers said. “That’s inconsistent and no wonder the public is confused.”

Holcomb has defended his actions, 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 said.

The 1,357 COVID-19 hospitalizations as of Tuesday put Indiana at its highest level since mid-May, the ISDH reported. Such hospitalizations have grown by two-thirds since Sept. 22 – the day before Holcomb announced the changes.

Holcomb said he would consider tougher restrictions for hot spots around the state, but didn’t indicate any move toward such statewide actions.

“Just like everything else we do around here, we have to look at the root causes,” he said. “And assuming that some blanket response will solve it – that’s being proven inaccurate.”

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 said. 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.

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,” she said.

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