Gov. Eric Holcomb held his regular virtual news conference with other Indiana leaders on Wednesday to discuss how the state is continuing to battle the coronavirus pandemic.
Last week Indiana set a record for new coronavirus cases, a USA Today analysis found. The 5,000-plus cases reported over the past week was nearly 8% higher than the worst week in the spring.
On Wednesday, the state health department reported 763 new cases and 14 more deaths in Indiana. In all, the health department has reported more than 58,000 cases and 2,666 deaths. More than 654,000 people have been tested.
Here’s what was learned at Wednesday’s news conference:
- Holcomb announced Indiana will institute a statewide mask mandate effective July 27. “The simple act of covering our faces, as odd as it may feel, can help us prevent the transmission of the virus, which is why this is the next prudent step that we as a state need to take,” Holcomb said.
- The mandate applies to anyone 8 years old or older in indoor public spaces, commercial entities or transportation services. It also applies to public spaces where you can’t socially distance. Exceptions will be made for medical purposes, “strenuous physical activity,” and eating and drinking. Masks are recommended for people between 2 and 7 years old.
- Masks will be required in schools for grades 3 and up.
- While not wearing a mask will be a Class B misdemeanor, Holcomb said enforcement will not be strict. “Please know that the mask police will not be patrolling Indiana streets.” He said the state will continue to appeal to Hoosiers to do the right thing. “We don’t want it to get to the point where misdemeanors come into play,” he said. “We don’t think we’re there yet.”
- The mask mandate will last “as long as we need it to,” Holcomb said. He said he doesn’t want the state to reach the point where it needs to start closing things again like other states have.
- He said he’s waiting until July 27 for the mandate to take effect because he needed time to finish the executive order and because he wanted to give time for people to learn about the order.
- The governor said there is no more important task than safely returning kids to school. He said staying in Stage 4.5 will not preclude schools from opening. Holcomb said he will not set a start date for the entire school.
- Jennifer Sullivan, secretary of the state’s Family and Social Services Administration, said only 16 of the state’s 4,000 child care locations are closed due to a COVID-19 case.
- Sullivan issued guidelines for schools, including spacing desks and hand washing.
- She said all students should wear masks on a school bus, regardless of age.
- Lindsay Weaver, the chief medical officer for the state health department, laid out guidelines for when a student or teacher tests positive. She said no threshold has been set for when an entire school should close.
- Weaver said state ventilator and ICU bed capacity remain steady, though hospitalization numbers are increasing.
- The positivity rate of tests has increased since early July.
- The number of people with COVID-19 being treated in Indiana’s intensive care units also has grown to about 50% more than earlier this month soon after Gov. Eric Holcomb cited concerns about additional cases in delaying any steps toward lifting restrictions on businesses and crowd sizes.
- The governor cited President Donald Trump’s recent statement that he believes the pandemic will continue to get worse before it gets better and said that’s another reason that Hoosiers should want to wear masks to limit spread.
- Sullivan dismissed concerns about the safety of masks. She said some of the smartest people in the world wear masks all the time. “There are lots of things to be concerned about right now,” she said. “Masks are not one of them.”