Indiana top attorney calls for special legislative session
Indiana health officials reported 850 new COVID-19 cases and 28 additional deaths Tuesday as the state surpassed 81,000 positive tests.
The Indiana State Department of Health confirmed a total of 81,847 positive coronavirus cases in the state, including 2,954 deaths. There have been 928,614 tests conducted, with an 8.8% total positivity rate.
Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill questioned the governor's ability to continue issuing executive orders responsive to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a letter sent Friday to Gov. Eric Holcomb and leaders of the General Assembly, Hill contends the governor's executive orders near the beginning of the pandemic were "unfortunate" but justified.
But now, Hill is calling for a special legislative session to "address public governance challenges" caused by the virus.
He says it's "debatable" whether Holcomb has the same "emergency authority" to continue issuing non-legislative policies because officials have had enough time to "adjust to a new normal."
Gary and Marquette Park beaches in Indiana reopen Friday through Labor Day after being closed due to COVID-19 concerns.
Police will be out managing crowds, as public parking lots and shelters will be limited to 75% capacity.
Those who park on nearby residential streets will be ticketed or towed.
City officials said they will make sure proper precautions are taken as they partially reopen Gary beaches.
"We were born and raised on this beach, 63 years we've been on this beach," said Gary resident and twin Dolly Cerda.
She and her sister Dotty Prue said they are grateful Gary beach days are back.
"It'll be what it'll be with the virus," Cerda said. "The virus shouldn't frighten anybody to get out and enjoy. Don't be trapped inside," Prue added.
They said they are not worried about coronavirus, but Gary Health Commissioner Dr. Rowland Walker said he always is.
The city has moved to reopen beaches until Labor Day.
"The attempt is to give people the opportunity to have some outdoor activity. If people are going to have any type of small gatherings the best place is going to be outdoors," Walker said.
Walker said important guidelines are in place.
Lake County, Indiana still has the second highest number of COVID-19 cases in the state with a positivity rate of about 8%.
"People who don't live in the same household have to remain socially distant. You have to wear your mask out in public, especially when you're not in your common areas, so we're going to enforce those things," Walker said.
Gary Mayor Jerome Prince said Gary Police and Lake County Sheriff's Deputies will be patrolling, asking people to reduce their party size or leave if necessary, but we haven't seen any monitoring today.
Parking lots and beach shelters are capped at 75 percent capacity. The mayor says if these guidelines aren't met, "We will close the beaches again," he said.
On the first day reopened, Gary beaches were not packed.
But they already have families from Illinois and St. Louis.
"We're trying to get away before school starts next week. And do a little end of summer close out if you will," said Illinoisan James Cheung.
"Beautiful day like this makes it worth coming out here and having a good day," said Johnathan Gonzales, who was visiting from St. Louis.
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," Gov. Eric Holcomb said.
Indianapolis businesses not following the city's coronavirus restrictions will face a greater chance of fines as officials say they will ramp up enforcement.
Bars and nightclubs will remain closed in the city as Marion County Health Department Director Dr. Virginia Caine said Tuesday those ages 20-29 represented fastest-growing age group for new COVID-19 infections during July.
Mayor Joe Hogsett said several businesses flouted the city's rules on crowd sizes, distancing and face masks over the weekend. In one instance, the Indianapolis Speedrome race track on the city's east side was issued a $1,000 fine for exceeding the 25% capacity limit on Saturday.
The executive order also extends the moratorium on evictions from rental properties and the prohibition on filing foreclosures through Aug. 14.
The mandatory mask order for schools has also 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.
In Munster, students started the new school year, and parents had the option of choosing in-person instruction or online learning. Students in Portage Township also returned using remote learning.
An eastern Indiana school district has sent 228 students home to quarantine to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in what appeared to be the largest isolating case among state schools amid the coronavirus outbreak.
The Star Press reports the Delaware Community Schools in Muncie took action after a football player at Delta High School tested positive for the virus several days ago.
The school district is aware of only that one case. Superintendent Reece Mann says the district is aware of a few students, who are in the testing process, are experiencing many of the COVID-19 symptoms, and may have direct connections to the positive case.
A central Indiana school has also shut 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 only part of the day.
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 that week.
The district started its academic year at the beginning of August. Students were slated to receive instruction virtually for the first week before resuming their normal schedules.
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.
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" recently.
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.
A statewide face mask mandate is also in effect, however, Holcomb has backed down on the idea of imposing fines or criminal penalties on those who don't comply with the order.
"I think he did the right thing because you know sometimes certain laws get abused," said East Chicago resident Wayne Morris.
Holcomb says he hopes to enforce compliance through education.
The statewide face mask order applies 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.
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.
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, just hours after Holcomb announced the mask order to help slow the coronavirus spread. The opinion, however, did 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.