Indiana coronavirus: IU seeks Greek house closures as state reports 1,044 new COVID-19 cases, 17 deaths

IN could be added to Chicago's emergency travel order next week
Indiana health officials reported 1,044 new COVID-19 cases and 17 additional deaths Friday as the state neared 1.5 million total tests administered.

The Indiana State Department of Health confirmed a total of 97,884 positive coronavirus cases in the state, including 3,127 deaths. There have been 1,497,703 tests conducted, with an 8.8% cumulative seven-day positivity rate.

Indiana University officials on Thursday asked all 40 fraternity and sorority houses at its Bloomington campus to shut down, saying their high rates of coronavirus infections made them unsafe.

But the Indiana University School of Medicine is seeking up to 1,500 volunteers to take part in a late-stage clinical trial of an experimental COVID-19 vaccine. The medical school announced Thursday that it's one of 81 sites in the U.S., and the only one in Indiana, chosen to test the vaccine developed by British drugmaker AstraZeneca in partnership with Oxford University. The medical school's testing of the vaccine will be conducted at IU Health University Hospital, in Indianapolis. Volunteers will need to travel to Indianapolis to receive two doses of the vaccine or placebo, as well as attend follow-up visits.

The Hometown Country Jam Music Festival in Hobart was postponed Friday due to COVID-19 restrictions. It will now take place June 5, 2021. All tickets will be transferred to the new date unless a refund is requested within 30 days. Visit HometownCountryJam.com/2020-Refund for more information.

Indiana health officials also are warning residents to take coronavirus precautions seriously over the Labor Day weekend, even as new statewide COVID-19 risk ratings show most counties with minimal or moderate virus spread.

But Chicago health officials say they are keeping an eye on Indiana's rising cases and could add the state to their emergency travel order.

RELATED: Chicago quarantine: Indiana could be added to COVID-19 emergency travel order next week

"I certainly though, want to let Chicagoans know that we have concerns about Indiana and particularly would encourage you not to travel to college and university towns in Indiana," said Dr. Allison Arwady, Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Health.

Data show numbers have spiked near college towns like South Bend and Muncie, according to Arwady.

"Really hoping that is more of a data reporting anomaly but we have some real concern there," said Arwady.

Indiana's top health official has announced an overhaul of a new county-by-county rating system for coronavirus risks just before it was becoming public as a guide for school leaders on whether to keep students in their classrooms. The state health department will count scores based on the number of new cases per 100,000 residents and the percentage of tests confirming COVID-19 infections. State health commissioner Dr. Kristina Box says the ratings are meant to help local schools and don't mandate any shift to virtual education.

The Indiana State Board of Education has approved a method to maintain funding for schools reopening virtually this fall after warnings of possible cuts from lawmakers last month. The board unanimously approved a plan Wednesday that allows the state to use data from the previous student count in February to determine whether schools should receive full funding for their students, regardless of whether they are instructing students only over the internet or in-person. School budgets won't be penalized for students learning virtually this fall, as long as the students weren't enrolled in a full-time virtual education program on the last enrollment count day.

Several of the beaches in Michigan City reopened, 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 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. 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 and gradually pick up other campus activities. The Rev. John Jenkins said in a live-streamed address to students, faculty and staff 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."

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 by the nonprofit group Indiana Vote By Mail and several voters comes after a federal judge in Indianapolis 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.

Lake County, Indiana still has the second highest number of COVID-19 cases in the state with a positivity rate of about 8%.

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.



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

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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