The Indiana State Department of Health reported 77 additional confirmed deaths over the last week, bringing the state’s total to 2,706. The state announced more than 62,000 total confirmed cases, with more than 701,000 Hoosiers tested.
All Hoosiers will have to wear a mask in public starting Monday, July 27, Gov. Eric Holcomb announced Wednesday.
Holcomb cited worrying COVID-19 trends, including an increase in the number of daily tests coming up positive and more people hospitalized for the virus, as reasons to impose the mask mandate.
“We want more Hoosiers to continue this trend of going back safely to work," Holcomb said. "We don’t want to dial it back or put it in reverse or, as some are, shutting down again.”
However, Wednesday evening, Attorney General Curtis Hill said, in a non-binding opinion, Gov. Eric Holcomb doesn’t have the authority to mandate Hoosiers wear masks in public or attach a criminal penalty to that order.
Five state senators asked Hill to weigh in on the mandate’s legitimacy – Sen. Jim Buck (R-Kokomo), Sen. Blake Doriot (R-Goshen), Sen. Aaron Freeman (R-Indianapolis), Sen. Mark Messmer (R-Jasper) and Sen. Jim Tomes (R-Wadesville).
In an advisory opinion – which carries no force of law – Hill says the broad emergency powers given to the governor do not include the authority to make everyone in the state wear a mask in public or to make violation of that order a class B misdemeanor.
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Holcomb said he’s not worried about potential lawsuits over his order.
“I don’t live under the threat of lawsuit," Holcomb said. "We do our research before we speak.”
Both candidates for attorney general also weighed in. Democrat Jonathan Weinzapfel supports the governor. He says he believes Holcomb – a Republican – has the authority to issue the mandate and would defend it in court.
Republican candidate Todd Rokita is less clear. He said "valid concerns" have been raised about public health versus individual liberty. And Rokita says he would work with the legislature to "clarify" the emergency powers law in state code.
However, the final executive order mandating face masks reversed Holcomb’s previously-announced class B misdemeanor, after significant pressure over the mandate from some Republican lawmakers and local law enforcement officials.
Now the mask order says only state and local health departments will enforce compliance, and only via education.
Indiana House and Senate Democrats want the governor to call a special session of the General Assembly to meet in August.
Dems say there are critical issues that must be addressed before the legislature’s scheduled return in January.
Democrats want to tackle expanded vote-by-mail and how federal COVID-19 relief money is spent before they return in January.
An increase in COVID-19 cases in Indiana – and across the U.S. – is prompting concerns about how safe schools will be as they reopen for the new academic year. And some schools are facing backed-up supply chains for critical items, like personal protective equipment (PPE) and technology for students.
There's a rush for schools to get critical things like face masks and sanitizer – and a lot of it.
But executive director of the Indiana Association of School Business Officials Denny Costerison says some are seeing delays in receiving those supplies.
He says the delays are also hitting technology orders as school leaders hurry to get enough devices to help students with online and remote learning.
"Whether they're tablets, laptops, whatever it is they're purchasing, I've heard they are backed up too," he said.
Most Indiana students – and all adults – must wear masks at school as buildings prepare to reopen to in-person instruction.
Gov. Eric Holcomb said back-to-school season is part of why he also issued a statewide mask mandate for all Hoosiers.
“Kids should not be getting mixed messages throughout the day," Holcomb said. "When they leave school grounds, they need to see that everyone is doing what they’re doing – that best practices are best for all.”
The mask mandate will apply to students in grade three and up in school, with some exceptions – including sitting at their desks (if spaced six feet apart) and at outdoor recess, if social distancing.
As schools reopen, the state is also providing guidance on how to do so as safely as possible. Family and Social Services Administration Secretary Dr. Jennifer Sullivan said that includes spacing desks as far possible, facing the same direction; barring birthday parties or other events that put students in close contact; redoing schedules so that a minimum number of students are close contacts; and grouping together younger students into "pods."
The Indiana Office of Career and Technical Education is encouraging schools to offer technical education classes in-person to more than 200,000 students as some school districts delay reopening or switch to exclusively virtual learning.
The office says unlike many courses, technical education classes have hands-on experience requirements that can’t be replicated online. Without it, students might lose the opportunity to earn college credit or certifications. The office recommends school districts delaying in-person classes or going virtual-only make an exception for CTE, while following their “Back on Track” COVID-19 precautions.
Vice President Mike Pence on Friday applauded Gov. Eric Holcomb’s efforts to reopen schools this fall, from K-12 to higher education institutions.
"It’s also important to remember that there are real costs – far beyond academics – to our kids if they’re not in school," Pence said.
During a roundtable discussion hosted by Marian University in Indianapolis, Pence highlighted the many wraparound services K-12 schools provide, including school lunches, special education and mental health services.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidance for families and policymakers Thursday evening about the importance of reopening schools. Pence referenced not only that guidance, but some of the studies it pointed to, including the educational losses from summer vacation and extended breaks.
Congress continues to debate next steps on federal assistance for small businesses and individuals. An advocacy group says more needs to be done to help many Indiana shops survive.
More than 75,000 loans were issued to businesses and organizations in Indiana through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The program’s deadline is Aug. 8, and aims to keep people on payrolls. Businesses could have the loan forgiven if they met certain criteria.
Barbara Quandt is the Indiana state director with the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB). As COVID-19 cases are rising and slowing down reopening plans, she said owners want another round of PPP loans.
“And the forgiveness part is tremendous,” said Quandt. “‘Cause are we gonna load ‘em up with debt in order to survive? Then you know a lot of businesses would just say ‘Eh, I’m gonna throw in the towel if this is just too much.’”
State lawmakers are preparing for a legislative session in January that must adjust to the COVID-19 pandemic.
A study committee tasked with resolving that issue had its first meeting Thursday.
Legislators say they need to consider a variety of approaches to adjusting to a session amid COVID-19. Sen. Mike Crider (R-Greenfield) said that can be anything from members in high-risk categories who participate via virtual meetings and voting to using more space throughout the Statehouse to appropriately socially distance.
“All the way down to, this building is closed; it’s not available for use," Crider said. "And what do we do in that scenario?”
The Indianapolis 500 will look a little different this August with reduced fans and other health precautions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the race is still expected to draw in more than 50,000 spectators.
Race fans will have to undergo a temperature check at the gate and will receive a face mask and hand sanitizer. Seating will also be spread out to practice social distancing. These are just a few of the measures Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) officials released in an 88-page plan Wednesday.
Penske Entertainment Corp. President and CEO Mark Miles said he believes it’s a responsible plan and can accommodate attendees due to the size of the facility.
“You know, we've always expressed it in ways like you can put the Rose Bowl and Churchill Downs and Yankee Stadium and Wimbledon and the Vatican City, all inside it,” said Miles. “Another way to think about it is the Mall in Washington D.C. It's two times the size of the Washington Mall.”
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