INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — At least two more Indiana counties on Friday joined the growing list of local governments in the state mandating the wearing of face masks while in public as the state has seen recent growth in the number of coronavirus hospitalizations.
The new requirements were adopted by officials in Monroe County, home to Bloomington and Indiana University’s main campus, and northern Indiana’s LaPorte County.
At least three other northern Indiana counties, along with the cities of Indianapolis, Evansville and West Lafayette also have imposed mask requirements. Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb has encouraged the wearing of face coverings but has declined to issue a statewide mandate.
Indiana high school marching band competitions are being called off for this fall while school officials weigh how and whether to have children back in classrooms for the new school year. Overcrowding also has prompted the closure of more Lake Michigan beaches.
The LaPorte County order was approved by a 2-1 vote by county commissioners Wednesday. It requires masks for adults and children 3 years and older in any indoor public area and outdoors when they can’t stay at least 6 feet (1.8 meters) away from people outside their household.
County Commissioner Vidya Kora, a physician, said he believed face coverings were a small sacrifice to fight the coronavirus outbreak.
“I really think wearing a mask is an act of kindness, compassion, respect, humility and love for your fellow human beings,” Kora said.
Similar mask requirements have been issued in nearby St. Joseph, Elkhart and LaGrange counties.
Holcomb announced Wednesday that Indiana would continue limiting crowd sizes for restaurants, bars and public events until at least the end of July as the state has seen its highest number of COVID-19 hospitalizations since mid-June.
Holcomb has repeatedly said he would support local officials across Indiana's 92 counties who choose to adopt mask requirements while not seeing a statewide mandate as necessary now.
“We’re in a state where the numbers could be very different county by county, even region by region,” Holcomb said Wednesday. “We’re comfortable where we are right now working with local leaders.”
The state health department on Friday reported 747 new confirmed cases of COVID-19, pushing Indiana’s seven-day daily average to 650, which is the highest it has been since early May. It also reported eight more deaths from the disease, raising the state’s death toll to 2,803 since mid-March.
Coronavirus hospitalizations dipped slightly to 815 as of Thursday, but that remained above levels last seen in mid-June. Indiana had seen a steady decline in hospitalizations since being over 1,400 a day through April into early May before the recent trend upward.
The mayor of Michigan City, which is in LaPorte County, closed its Lake Michigan beaches effective Friday, citing large crowds that include many out-of-state visitors. That move comes after Whiting’s mayor shut down its Lake Michigan beach near the Indiana-Illinois state line on Wednesday, also because of overcrowding.
The Monroe County mask order requires businesses to enforce compliance by their customers, with those failing to do so potentially being forced to close.
“What we want is cooperation and compliance,” Monroe County Health Administrator Penny Caudill said. “But if we are put in a position where we have to issue a fine, that would be a possibility.”