Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb on Wednesday said he would extend the state’s mask mandate for another month amid sharply rising COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations.
Holcomb made the announcement while revealing that Dr. Kristina Box, the state’s health commissioner, had tested positive for the COVID-19 virus.
Holcomb, however, said he would not bring back restrictions that were lifted three weeks ago and would leave the state in Stage 5 of the pandemic recovery plan for another month.
“This is not the time to abandon what we’ve been doing,” Holcomb said. “Just the opposite. We need to double down.”
The mask order, which Holcomb first issued in July, had been set to expire on Saturday.
The Indiana State Department of Health on Wednesday reported 1,357 statewide hospitalizations due to COVID-19 as of Tuesday, the highest mark since May 13. Hospitalizations have risen 68% in the last month.
The state also reported 1,172 new COVID-19 cases. New reported cases have topped 1,100 for eight straight days and have exceeded 1,000 a dozen times in the past 14 days.
The governor decided three weeks ago to lift nearly all of Indiana’s restrictions on businesses and crowd sizes, a decision his Democratic election challenger Dr. Woody Myers has called on Holcomb to reverse in hopes of slowing the coronavirus spread.
Holcomb said shutting down the state again would be “missing the point,” because people have proven they can have events and gatherings responsibly.
“There is proof out there that folks are operating responsibly in Stage 5,” Holcomb said. “We need to do more of that, not less of that.”
But Holcomb acknowledged that not everyone has been following the advice of his administration to wear a mask and socially distance, and those actions have been causing positive case numbers to continue increasing.
“Stage 5 is not the stage where the checkered flag comes out,” Holcomb said. “Stage 5 is not an excuse for indifference.”
Holcomb said Box and her team are particularly concerned about social events, such as weddings, funerals and house parties, where people are close together and not wearing masks.
“Those events are the very events that turn out to be big contributors to our positive cases,” Holcomb said.
Dr. Lindsay Weaver, chief medical officer of the state health department, said some Hoosiers are acting like the pandemic is over.
“This pandemic is not over, and it will not be over unless we all do our part,” Weaver said.
The Indiana Hospital Association applauded Holcomb’s decision to extend the mask mandate.
“We are seeing hospitalizations pick up significantly, which is especially concerning as we approach flu season,” IHA President Brian Tabor said in a written statement. “If we double down and wear masks, regularly wash our hands, and practice social distancing, it will go a long way in tamping down COVID-19.”