INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb is sticking by his decision to lift the statewide mask mandate next week amid concerns from health experts about more contagious coronavirus variants and a request from President Joe Biden for states to keep such rules in place.
Indiana also opened up COVID-19 vaccinations Wednesday to all residents age 16 and older in the latest expansion of the state’s vaccination efforts.
Holcomb, a Republican, said Wednesday that he also had not heard from Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, since his comments Monday hoping that Holcomb would reconsider the dropping of Indiana’s mandate effective April 6.
Holcomb said Beshear had his cellphone number and was welcome to call.
“I’m not looking to change my mind, but I’m happy to hear his reasoning behind his statement that he made,” Holcomb said. “My style has been to respect all other governors and the decisions that they have to make, according to the numbers and what’s happening on the ground in their states.”
Holcomb said about 18,000 Kentucky residents have received COVID-19 vaccination shots in Indiana and he understands that many people cross between the two states every day for work.
“I completely respect that, but I’m paying attention to the numbers in Indiana and what’s in the best interest for Hoosiers,” Holcomb said.
Beshear’s office didn’t have any immediate comment Wednesday.
Holcomb signed executive orders Wednesday that also end the statewide crowd size and other business restrictions meant to stem the coronavirus spread as of April 6 — the day after the NCAA men’s basketball tournament now being held in Indianapolis ends. He announced those changes last week.
Holcomb said he was confident that Indiana’s health care system had the capacity to care for COVID-19 patients and that the state could react effectively to new spread of the coronavirus.
State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box said she had concerns about coronavirus variants that are being blamed for growing infections in Michigan and elsewhere. Box said she was also worried by slight increases in new cases and hospitalizations across Indiana.
The Indiana State Department of Health’s COVID-19 tracking listed a seven-day average of 938 new infections as of Tuesday, up from an average of about 750 two weeks ago. Hospitalizations were 657, while those were below 600 for several days in mid-March.
Both figures, however, are down more than 80% from December peaks. The state’s average daily COVID-19 deaths have dropped from more than 100 a day to fewer than 10 a day during that time.
“Cases are increasing in parts of the state, which again serves as a reminder that we cannot throw caution to the wind and behave as the pandemic is over,” Box said.
Indiana’s expansion of vaccine eligibility for youths and people in their 20s makes more than 1.3 million additional people eligible for COVID-19 vaccines. That raises the number of Indiana residents eligible to about 5.4 million, the state health agency said.
About 21% of Indiana residents 16 and older had been fully vaccinated as of Tuesday, according to the department.
State officials said Indiana was set to receive some 405,000 first and second doses of the three available vaccines this coming week.
Some of those doses will be distributed to planned mass vaccination clinics starting Thursday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and next week in Gary, along with some clinics at workplaces with more than 1,000 employees. The state is also dedicating 60,000 doses of Pfizer vaccine for clinics aimed at students at Indiana University in Bloomington, Purdue University, the Indiana-Purdue campus in Indianapolis, Notre Dame, Butler and Goshen College.
Eligible Indiana residents can schedule a vaccine appointment by visiting https://ourshot.in.gov or calling 211.