Holcomb moving Indiana to Stage 5 of recovery plan, but extends mask mandate

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb on Wednesday said he was moving Indiana to Stage 5 of the Back on Track recovery plan starting Saturday, but was extending the state’s pandemic mask order through at least Oct. 17.

Stage 5 essentially lifts all restrictions, except for some social distancing requirements and some limitations on larger crowds. The state has been in Stage 4.5 since July 1.

The mask order from Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb first took effect July 27 and was set to expire Saturday without the extension.

The governor said he was making the move because COVID-19 numbers have been “moving in the right direction.”

Full state guidelines for Stage 5 can be found here.

Holcomb has largely lifted most of the state’s travel and business restrictions since May while keeping in place limits on crowd sizes for restaurants, bars and public events. He has credited the mask order and other actions with holding down the state’s COVID-19 death and hospitalization rates.

State health officials on Wednesday added 10 more COVID-19 deaths to the state’s toll. The newly recorded deaths raise the state’s death toll to 3,530, when including confirmed and presumed coronavirus cases, since the state’s first such death was reported on March 15, according to the Indiana State Department of Health. That is an increase of 58 deaths in the past week.

Holcomb’s decisions on mask mandates have stirred discontent among conservatives who believe his orders have gone too far. That has complicated his reelection campaign against Democratic challenger Woody Myers, with some saying they will support Libertarian candidate Donald Rainwater.

Disgruntled voters are unlikely to support Myers, the Democratic candidate, as he called for a statewide mask order weeks before Holcomb issued one and believes it should include possible criminal penalties. Myers, a physician and former state health commissioner, has said Holcomb “stalled for months, caving to the anti-science conservatives.”

That has provided an opening for Rainwater that Libertarian candidates typically don’t see.

The Rainwater campaign hasn’t been able to keep up with requests for yard signs and has been raising enough money to start running cable TV and radio ads next week, which Libertarians haven’t done for many years, campaign manager Sam Goldstein said.

Holcomb last week vigorously defended mask wearing as helping keep COVID-19 death and hospitalization rates far below what they were during the worst of the outbreak in April and May.

“Here’s the deal, the virus hasn’t changed. It is still uber infectious, it is still ravaging different parts of the country,” Holcomb said. “The more that we do the things that work, the better off we’ll be and we’ll continue to see folks go back to work.”

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