Holcomb extends coronavirus limits as cases grow

Indiana’s current limits on crowd sizes for restaurants, bars and public events will remain in place until at least the end of July as the state faces a growing number of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations, Gov. Eric Holcomb said Wednesday.

Holcomb lifted Indiana’s stay-at-home order and started easing coronavirus restrictions in early May but halted those steps two weeks ago as the state started seeing infections grow again in a reversal of steady declines seen since April.

Indiana’s coronavirus infections — like that of many other states — has grown with a new jump in hospitalizations for coronavirus illnesses reported Wednesday by state health officials.

“It is a very volatile environment out there, not just in our state but surrounding our state, around the country,” Holcomb said.

The governor, however, said he would not issue a statewide mask-wearing mandate or direct school districts on whether they should have children return to classrooms for the start of new school years in the coming weeks.

Holcomb’s decision means Indiana restaurants will continue to be allowed 75% capacity in their dining rooms, while bars, nightclubs, bowling alleys, museums and movie theaters can be open at half capacity.

The state will also continue its current 250-person limit on social gatherings unless health officials have approved safety plans for those events.

At least three large school districts — Washington Township in Indianapolis, Anderson Community Schools and Portage Township in Porter County — have decided to begin the academic year online and not immediately bring children back to the classroom. The state’s largest high school — the 5,400-student Carmel High School — plans a hybrid with students splitting their time between classroom and online work.

The Washington Township school board has criticized Holcomb and other leaders, saying it found itself in a “difficult position” because of “limited specific guidance” from the state.

Holcomb said Wednesday that he believed leaders among the state’s nearly 300 public school districts best know the situation in their communities. He said he would consider requests from the Indiana State Teachers Association, including for a statewide school face mask requirement.

“Our intent has always been to get back to in-school instruction when it’s safe and where it’s safe,” Holcomb said.

Holcomb, a Republican, said school districts would not face any state funding cuts by not reopening classrooms — a split from President Donald Trump’s threat to do so.

“What that place of instruction looks like, whether it is virtual or in the class, it has got to be safe, that is where we draw the line,” Holcomb said.

The 881 people in Indiana hospitals with COVID-19 as of Tuesday was the most since June 14 after falling to as low as 595 on June 26, according to state health department statistics. Indiana had seen a steady decline in hospitalizations since being over 1,400 a day through April into early May before the recent trend upward.

The additional hospitalizations come as the state health department has been reporting new confirmed COVID-19 infections at the highest levels since early May.

An additional 10 coronavirus-related deaths were reported between Thursday and Tuesday. Those give the state 2,785 deaths of those with confirmed or presumed infections since mid-March. The seven-day average of deaths has remained less than 10 since June 29 after peaking at an average of 42 a day in late April.

While Holcomb said he would leave decisions about mask-wearing requirements up to city and county officials, both he and State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box urged the public to wear masks and take other steps to slow the coronavirus spread. They suggested that a rollback to tougher quarantine orders was possible.

“If we see things continue to be a problem or trend in the wrong direction, we are going to make decisions that need to be made to make sure that they don’t go the wrong direction,” Box said. “So we don’t end up like other states that are having an overwhelming surge.”

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