Coronavirus Indiana: Mask order begins Monday as IN reports 860 new COVID-19 cases, 8 deaths

EAST CHICAGO, Ind. (WLS) -- Indiana's statewide mask mandate goes into effect Monday, but without the bite that was initially promised.

Gov. Eric Holcomb backed down on the idea of imposing fines or criminal penalties on those who don't comply with the face mask order.

Indiana health officials reported 860 new COVID-19 cases and 8 additional deaths Sunday, just days after Holcomb dropped a mask violator penalty.
The Indiana State Department of Health confirmed a total of 62,372 positive coronavirus cases in the state, including 2,706 deaths. There have been 690,274 tests conducted, with an 8.9% positivity rate.

Customers walking into Gary's J's Breakfast Club to place or pick up an order Sunday faced a choice, mask up, or we'll take your order outside. Those without masks were offered one to wear while waiting for their food. Even without a state mandate, the restaurant, has been requiring staff and customers to wear a face covering for awhile now. It's a decision that's been met with varying degrees of acceptance, and resistance.

"We're not going to make this a battle, but it's about protecting yourself, protecting us and that's what we're going to do," Owner Joslyn Kelly said.

With the positivity rate inching toward 9%, and the number COVID-19 cases continuing to climb in Indiana, the state has taken a number of steps, such as extending capacity limits on indoor businesses.

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. Lake County, Indiana, issued a mandate last week, but because East Chicago and Gary have their own health departments, the mandate did not apply to them.

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J's Breakfast Club customer Frank Quarles generally supports the use of masks, but is leery of being ordered to wear one.

"There's going to be some resistance because people have freedom. With mandating masks, we're not having freedom," Quarles said.

The Indiana mandate requires anyone who enters a business to wear a mask. But there are exceptions.

Masks are not required of those who have specific medical conditions, during strenuous physical activity and while eating and drinking.

"The resistance will still be there because now the people who were resisting are angry because it's being mandated," Kelly said.

Facing opposition from within his own party, several Republican sheriffs have already said they won't enforce the mandate, with Holcomb himself saying he hopes to enforce compliance through education.

The Indiana governor dropped a planned criminal penalty from the statewide face mask mandate that he signed Friday after objections from some law enforcement officials and conservative legislators.

Holcomb had 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."

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 will take 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.

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.

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The state has extended its current capacity limits for restaurants and bars and other restrictions for at least another two weeks because of an increasing number of coronavirus cases across the state. Holcomb first delayed lifting those limits two weeks ago, but he said Wednesday that a continuing volatile environment in Indiana and other states prompted him to keep them in place for at least two more 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 Associated Press contributed to this report.
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