INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Governor Eric Holcomb made several announcements during a speech Tuesday night on Indiana's battle with COVID-19. The governor plans to lift the statewide mask mandate and remaining COVID-19 business restrictions in two weeks, on April 6. On that day, the mask mandate will become a mask advisory.
Related: COVID-19 Vaccines Information
Gov. Eric Holcomb also announced that on March 31 everyone 16 and older will be able to schedule a COVID-19 vaccination. Gov. Holcomb said in the Tuesday evening speech that the state’s steep declines in coronavirus hospitalization and death rates along with the growing number of people fully vaccinated justify the changes.
He said he hoped the state was seeing the “tail end of this pandemic” that has killed nearly 13,000 over the past year.
Holcomb said local officials would still have the authority to impose tougher restrictions in response to COVID-19 cases in their communities and that face mask use would still be required in K-12 schools for the rest of this school year. He urged residents to continue wearing masks in public and that bars and restaurants continue to space out their tables.
Holcomb has faced public pressure and from conservative state lawmakers to ease restrictions, especially after governors in Texas and other states have done so recently.
But some health experts worry it is premature to lift the statewide restrictions.
“We put a lot of restrictions in place last year, there was some initial hesitation by some parts of the population to comply with some of those orders,” said Brian Dixon, an epidemiologist at Indiana University’s Fairbanks School of Public Health. “And then what we saw in the fall is that rates went up, they skyrocketed because people were not following precautions.”
State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box has said state officials are working to meet Biden’s directive to make all adults eligible for a vaccine by May 1, and blamed expansion delays on too few doses coming from the federal government.
The Republican-dominated Legislature is debating proposals to curtail a governor’s authority under the state’s emergency powers law to impose restrictions such as mask rules and business closures. Many conservative legislators want to cancel the public health emergency order issued a year ago by Holcomb, with a resolution to do so being sponsored by 28 Republicans in the 100-member House.
Legislative leaders haven’t yet taken up that resolution or any legislation that would roll back any restrictions imposed under Holcomb’s executive orders.
Republican House Speaker Todd Huston said Holcomb’s decisions on extending restrictions could influence steps lawmakers take before adjourning this year’s regular session in about a month.
“I think it is time that we can start moving forward on easing some of the restrictions that are in place, want to make sure we do it the right way and in the most appropriate way,” Huston said.