Indiana coronavirus: Michigan City beaches reopen as IN reports 897 new COVID-19 cases, 5 deaths

Washington Park among beaches reopening
Indiana health officials reported 897 new COVID-19 cases and five additional deaths Monday as the state surpassed 1 million total tests administered.

The Indiana State Department of Health confirmed a total of 94,196 positive coronavirus cases in the state, including 3,077 deaths. There have been 1,076,947 tests conducted, with a 8.7% cumulative seven-day positivity rate.

Several of the beaches in Michigan City reopened on Friday, including Washington Park.

They are open to residents of LaPorte County with a valid beach sticker. The beaches had been closed due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Indiana's governor is extending the statewide face mask order that he first issued a month ago aimed at slowing the coronavirus spread. Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb announced Wednesday he was keeping the mask mandate in place for another 30 days. Holcomb is also extending the state's limits crowd sizes for restaurants, bars and public events. Those orders were all set to expire late Wednesday. Holcomb said he doesn't want the state's rate of new coronavirus cases to start growing again. Democratic governor candidate Woody Myers says Indiana should join other states with possible criminal penalties for mask mandate violators.

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

The president of the University of Notre Dame says it will resume in-person classes in stages beginning Wednesday and gradually pick up other campus activities. The Rev. John Jenkins said in a live-streamed address to students, faculty and staff Friday that with coronavirus cases declining among students, it's safe to return to in-person classes. In-person classes for Notre Dame's 12,000 students began Aug. 10, but eight days into the semester the university moved classes online for two weeks after a spike in confirmed COVID-19 cases. Jenkins says "the virus dealt us a blow and we stumbled, but we steadied ourselves and now we move on."

Indiana University says members of eight Greek houses and students living in two other houses off the Bloomington campus have been ordered to quarantine because of positive COVID-19 tests. IU said Thursday it has directed all of the affected houses, including the Evans Scholars and Christian Student Fellowship houses, to suspend in-person organizational activities, other than dining and housing for live-in members, until at least Sept. 14. No IU residence halls are included in these measures. The news release did not include specific numbers but described "an alarming increase of positive tests."

A federal appeals court is being asked to make mail-in ballots available to all Indiana voters for this fall's election. The appeal filed Tuesday by the nonprofit group Indiana Vote By Mail and several voters comes after a federal judge in Indianapolis on Friday rejected their request for a court order to extend the no-excuse mail-in balloting that Indiana allowed for the spring primary election because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Their appeal maintains that Indiana's mail-in voting limits place an unconstitutional burden on those worried about coronavirus exposure but don't meet the state's excuse categories, including being 65 or older or being absent from their home counties on Election Day.

After a months-long break forced by the coronavirus pandemic, felony jury trials are set to resume in Marion County, home to Indianapolis and the state's largest county court system. Marion Superior Court officials say major felony trials will begin the week of Aug. 24, while lower felony, misdemeanor and civil trials would resume the week of Sept. 14. To protect jurors against the spread of COVID-19 during trials, the court is implementing assigned, socially distanced seating and requiring face masks. Jurors will also be provided personal hand sanitizers and sanitizer stations; and deep cleaning facilities.

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 to 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 reopened 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 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.

Parking lots and beach shelters are capped at 75% capacity. The mayor says if these guidelines aren't met, "We will close the beaches again," he said.

"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.

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 those ages 20-29 represented fastest-growing age group for new COVID-19 infections during July.

Indianapolis 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.

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.

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Face coverings are now required in many public situations in Indiana.

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 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.

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.

RELATED: Gary beaches close for at least two weeks due to rising COVID-19 concerns, mayor says
Schools Superintendent Joe Brown said after an emergency school board meeting 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.

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The Will County Health Department said it has traced multiple cases of COVID-19 to people who attended a private high school prom held in Northwest Indiana.

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

A statewide face mask mandate is 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 Associated Press contributed to this report.
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