Indiana COVID-19: Holcomb extends restrictions through August as IN reports 1,051 new coronavirus cases, 6 additional deaths

EAST CHICAGO, Ind. (WLS) — Indiana health officials reported 1,051 new COVID-19 cases and 6 additional deaths Tuesday.

The Indiana State Department of Health confirmed a total of 71,015 positive coronavirus cases in the state, including 2,811 deaths. There have been 804,345 tests conducted, with an 8.8% total positivity rate. The seven-day positivity rate is 7.4%.

The state will remain in Stage 4.5 until Aug. 27. Local governments can impose more restrictive guidelines.

“This virus will take what we give it, so it is incumbent upon us to be on our best behavior, practicing physical distancing, good hygiene and masking up,” Holcomb said.

RELATED: Here’s where to find coronavirus testing in Northwest Indiana

The executive order also extends the moratorium on evictions from rental properties and the prohibition on filing foreclosures through Aug. 14.

And the mandatory mask order for schools has been modified to allow students to remove masks for classroom instruction when they are able to maintain at least 3 to 6 feet of distance between students, based on health officials’ guidance.

A central Indiana school is shutting down two days after opening after at least one staffer tested positive for COVID-19.

Other districts in the state also are reporting positive coronavirus tests among students and employees.

The Indianapolis Star reports that Elwood Junior Senior High School is temporarily closing this week. Several other people are in quarantine.

The district says no students were believed to have been in close contact with the staff members.

Schools Superintendent Joe Brown said after an emergency school board meeting Saturday that “all of these individuals were tested prior” to the start of the school year.

At least one other student and one school staff member also tested positive for the virus just days after public schools around Indiana reopened.

In the Greenfield-Central Community School Corporation, a student tested positive for the virus on the first day back to class.

Superintendent Harold Olin told The Associated Press that the student attended school for part of the day Thursday.

People who came into close contact with the student will have to quarantine before returning. At Avon High School, a staff member tested positive. However, the district says that person had not been at school this week.

The district started its academic year Thursday. Students will receive instruction virtually this week before resuming their normal schedules.

A steel plant in East Chicago, Indiana, is laying off hundreds of employees. In a letter, ArcelorMittal said the layoffs for 877 people at its Indiana plant take effect Saturday. The company said the layoffs are a result of decreased demand for steel during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Will County Health Department in Illinois said contact tracers determined that multiple people who attended a private high school prom held in Northwest Indiana have now tested positive for COVID-19.

Officials said they determined nearly 300 people, including high school students and chaperones, attended the event from more than one high school in that area.

RELATED: Multiple positive COVID-19 tests traced to Will Co. private prom attended by 270 students, chaperones

White House health advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci says he’s concerned about the Midwest reopening, especially in states like Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee and Kentucky.

Those states are “starting to have” a “very early indication” of rising COVID-19 positivity rates, which is a “surefire sign that you’ve got to be really careful,” Fauci told ABC News chief anchor George Stephanopoulos on “Good Morning America” Tuesday.

The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases urged states to reopen in a manner consistent with the federal government’s guidelines for reopening.

Watch full GMA interview with Dr. Anthony Fauci, NIH Director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease

Indiana’s statewide face mask mandate took effect on Monday.

Holcomb backed down on the idea of imposing fines or criminal penalties on those who don’t comply with the order.

RELATED: Michigan City extends park, beach closures as Indiana COVID-19 cases rise

“I think he did the right thing because you know sometimes certain laws get abused,” said East Chicago resident Wayne Morris.

LaAzteca, a small family owned grocery store in Hammond, has had its own no mask, no service rule in place for a few weeks now. Signs are posted all over the doors.

While some customers are grateful for it, management said a small percentage have met it with resistance.

“I just try to explain to them ‘Hey, it’s not just about our well-being and my employees well-being, it’s also about like the other customers well-being and your own well-being,” said Javier Carrillo of La Azteca.

Meanwhile, Javier Carrillo says his store is giving out free masks to customers who don’t have one.

RELATED: Gary beaches close for at least two weeks due to rising COVID-19 concerns, mayor says

With the positivity rate inching toward 9% and the number of coronavirus cases continuing to climb in Indiana, the state has taken a number of steps.

Some municipalities have closed down beaches frequented by those on the Illinois side of the border. But until now the issue of masks remained a recommendation only.

Holcomb himself says he hopes to enforce compliance through education.

The statewide face mask 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. The order took effect Monday.

Holcomb said his order will also require masks in schools for grades three and above for students, teachers and other employees. Holcomb said a renewed growth in the number of COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations necessitated the mask order.

Masks aren’t required for people with specific medical reasons or for people who are doing strenuous physical activity. Eating and drinking is also an exception.

But the state’s attorney general believes the governor has overstepped his authority in issuing a statewide face mask mandate and that only the Legislature can make violations a criminal offense. Republican Attorney General Curtis Hill issued an advisory opinion Wednesday night, just hours after Holcomb announced the mask order taking effect Monday to help slow the coronavirus spread. The opinion does not block the governor’s action. Hill is on his way out of office after failing to win the Republican nomination for reelection following allegations that he drunkenly groped four women.

The Republican leader of the state Senate praised Holcomb’s decision to drop the possible misdemeanor offense.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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