La PORTE — While Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb is sticking by his decision to lift the statewide mask mandate next week amid concerns from health experts, La Porte County’s masking rule will remain in effect for at least another month.

La Porte County Health Officer Dr. Sandra Deausy announced Thursday that she is extending the mask mandate through the month of April because cases of COVID-19 continue “having a direct impact on the health and safety” of county residents.

The second amended health order noted the county has a 6.49 percent positivity rate and has been downgraded to yellow on the state’s map of coronavirus spread threat risk.

Deausy said she made the decision after consulting with elected officials, including the La Porte County Board of Commissioners and the mayors of Michigan City and La Porte.

Masks will continue to be required in all indoor areas accessible to the public, and in outdoor spaces where 6 feet of distancing from people outside your household is not possible.

Social gatherings and events will be limited to 50 percent of a facility’s capacity or 100 people (including staff).

That includes bars and restaurants, where tables must be spaced at least 6 feet apart; gyms and fitness studios, where equipment must be spaced 6 feet apart; and libraries, funeral homes and swimming pools.

All businesses must maintain social distancing and sanitation requirements; and all employees and visitors must wear masks.

The order is “necessary to slow the spread of COVID-19 throughout La Porte County and protect public health,” Deausy said.

St. Joseph and Marion counties have also extended mask mandates despite the governor’s order.

The Indiana State Department of Health on Thursday reported 1,240 additional cases of COVID-19 statewide, raising the total to 687,713. Another nine deaths were reported, raising the pandemic toll to 12,642 confirmed and 406 probable deaths.

There were 45 new cases reported in La Porte County, raising the totals to 10,303 infected and 202 dead, according to ISDH. The county’s all-test positivity rate was 8.9 percent and the rate for unique individuals tested was 14.7 percent.

However, despite the numbers, concerns about more contagious coronavirus variants, and a request from President Joe Biden for states to keep mask rules in place, Holcomb is sticking by his decision.

He signed executive orders Wednesday ending the mask mandate and statewide crowd size and other business restrictions as of April 6 – the day after the NCAA men’s basketball tournament in Indianapolis ends. He announced those changes last week, making the mask order an advisory-only.

Holcomb said he was confident that Indiana’s health care system had the capacity to care for COVID-19 patients and that the state could react effectively to any new spread of the coronavirus.

State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box, however, said she had concerns about coronavirus variants that are being blamed for growing infections in Michigan and elsewhere. Box said she was also worried by slight increases in new cases and hospitalizations across Indiana.

The Indiana State Department of Health’s COVID-19 tracking listed a seven-day average of 938 new infections as of Tuesday, up from an average of about 750 two weeks ago. Hospitalizations were 657, while those were below 600 for several days in mid-March.

Both figures, however, are down more than 80 percent from December/January peaks.

The Indiana Democratic Party issued a statement saying: “Indiana was given an advantage through the American Rescue Plan with its investment in vaccine distribution and funding for measures like adequate personal protective equipment, but should Holcomb attempt to force the state out of the COVID-19 pandemic, all due to his politics, more Hoosiers will get sick and more people could die.

“The Indiana Democratic Party has repeatedly called for Gov. Holcomb to put common-sense, science, and data ahead of partisanship with COVID-19, but it appears the governor will not listen.”

Holcomb, a Republican, also said he had not heard from Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, since the latter’s comments hoping that Holcomb would reconsider the dropping of Indiana’s mandate.

Holcomb said Beshear had his cellphone number and was welcome to call. “I’m not looking to change my mind, but I’m happy to hear his reasoning behind his statement that he made,” he said.

“My style has been to respect all other governors and the decisions that they have to make, according to the numbers and what’s happening on the ground in their states. ... I completely respect that, but I’m paying attention to the numbers in Indiana and what’s in the best interest for Hoosiers,” Holcomb said.

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