INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana’s governor plans to lift the statewide mask mandate and remaining COVID-19 business restrictions in two weeks.
Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb said in a Tuesday evening speech that the state’s steep declines in coronavirus hospitalization and deaths rates along with the growing number of people fully vaccinated justify the steps starting April 6.
Holcomb 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 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.
During the speech, Governor Holcomb announced that starting March 31, all Hoosiers 16 and older will be eligible for the vaccine, provided Indiana receives a large increase in the amount of vaccine as outlined by the federal government.
Additional mass vaccination clinics will be scheduled for April and the state will implement a large employer vaccination program.
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.”