Coronavirus Indiana: IN reports 934 new COVID-19 cases, 11 deaths; Gov. Holcomb drops mask violator penalty

INDIANAPOLIS (WLS) -- Indiana's number of new confirmed coronavirus infections sits just under 1,000, a day after Governor Eric Holcomb dropped a mask violator penalty.

Indiana health officials reported 934 new COVID-19 cases and 11 additional deaths on Friday.

The Indiana State Department of Health confirmed a total of 61,520 positive coronavirus cases in the state, including 2,698 deaths. There have been 690,274 tests conducted, with an 8.9% positivity rate.

Gov. Eric Holcomb 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.

Gov. 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 3 and above by 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's leader praised Holcomb's decision to drop the possible misdemeanor offense.
Also this week, Michigan City Mayor Duane Parry extended the closing of Washington Park through midnight July 30. The closure includes Washington Park, the Senior Center, Fedder's Alley, the Zoo and Sunset Grille. The order is subject to further extension.

"I understand we're all going to miss the beach but it will make us love it more later and it will make us fonder of it," said resident Mary Watts.

"I work at the beach and it does affect how many hours I work sometimes," said resident Natalia Ruiz. "I think its a really good idea in order to stop the spread of COVID."

Parry has requested that the Park Board immediately meet to discuss the remainder of park operations this year along with developing new rules and guidelines for Washington Park to adapt to the fluid changes in the pandemic.

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

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 Indiana Dunes National Park has launched a coronavirus safety campaign urging visitors to the northwestern Indiana park to practice social distancing and other precautions when they hit the beach. The Northwest Indiana Times reports that the park's "Think Before You Beach" campaign began Saturday with signs posted around Lake Michigan's shoreline, and with social media posts and videos, reminding visitors to social distance, wear a mask and use public facilities with caution. Park spokesman Bruce Rowe said the campaign "reminds the public that they can catch the virus outdoors on a crowded beach if they are not wearing a mask or properly socially distancing."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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