Indiana's statewide face mask mandate began Monday, with the state joining many others in the attempt to slow the spread of the deadly coronavirus.
The order will apply to anyone ages 8 and older in any indoor public or business areas and at outdoor public spaces when sufficient distancing can’t be maintained.
Gov. Eric Holcomb said his order, announced last week, will also require masks in schools for grades 3 and above by students, teachers and other employees.
Holcomb said a renewed growth in the number of COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations necessitated the mask order. He said he did not want Indiana to have to follow other states and restore business restrictions that had been lifted in the past couple months.
Health officials in Indiana reported 860 new cases of coronavirus Sunday, along with eight additional deaths attributed to the virus.
According to figures released by the Indiana State Department of Health, a total of 62,372 confirmed cases of coronavirus have now been reported statewide since the pandemic began, along with 2,706 fatalities.
Officials reported more than 11,000 new coronavirus test results were returned over the last 24 hours, bringing the statewide total number of tests performed to 701,311. Those tests have returned an 8.9 percent positivity rate overall, according to ISDH data.
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 Holcomb cited concerns about additional cases in delaying any steps toward lifting restrictions on businesses and crowd sizes.
According to health officials, 11.8 percent of the state’s ICU beds are currently in use by COVID-19 patients, with 44.4 percent of beds available statewide. Ventilators are readily available, with just 2.2 percent of the state’s devices currently in use by COVID-19 patients.
The cities of Indianapolis, Evansville, South Bend, Gary, Bloomington and West Lafayette are among those where local officials have imposed face mask mandates.
There are no penalties associated with not following the new statewide rule. Holcomb dropped a planned criminal penalty from the mandate after objections from some law enforcement officials and conservative legislators. He had previously said Wednesday in announcing the mask requirement that violators could face a misdemeanor charge, while stating that the “mask police will not be patrolling Hoosier streets.”
Now, Holcomb says he’s leaving the enforcement to health departments through education. But because there’s no punishment, several police departments in central Indiana have already said they won’t enforce the order if people refuse to follow the mandate.