Indiana's six-month effort to combat the coronavirus by restricting personal liberties and business operations is coming to a close.

Gov. Eric Holcomb announced Wednesday he will sign an executive order moving the state to Stage 5 of his five-stage Back on Track reopening plan for at least a three-week period, beginning at 11:01 p.m. Friday in Northwest Indiana.

At Stage 5, all businesses may reopen to full capacity, including restaurants, bars and nightclubs; gyms, entertainment and cultural destinations may operate at 100% capacity; and there no longer are any attendance limits at sporting events, conventions or community gatherings — absent more stringent local or industry requirements.

The Republican governor still is directing Hoosiers to wear masks, or another face covering, when they are unable to maintain at least 6 feet of distance from other people in public places, and businesses can continue requiring every person entering their premises to wear a face mask.

In fact, Holcomb credited voluntary Hoosier compliance with his July 24 mask order for making it possible for Indiana to fully reopen ahead of its neighboring states.

"I know no one wants to wear a face mask. I mean, this is different, especially for Americans and Hoosiers. I get it. It's not my preference either," Holcomb said. "But it's not my preference that the pandemic is on top of us either and follows us around."

"And while our numbers are tracking in the right direction, enabling us to further open up, it's because of this,” Holcomb said while holding up a cloth face mask during his weekly COVID-19 press conference in his Statehouse office.

According to the Indiana State Department of Health, Indiana is conducting approximately 15,000 COVID-19 tests per day, with a seven-day positivity rate of just 3.9%.

Data show hospitals have sufficient capacity to treat COVID-19 infections and a force of contact tracers is alerting Hoosiers who have been in close proximity to anyone confirmed to have the coronavirus.

"We have been very Steady Eddie, very methodical, about this. Very data driven. And that's how we'll continue to be," Holcomb said.

At the same time, Holcomb is encouraging Hoosiers to continue doing their part to minimize the potential spread of the virus by wearing masks, regularly washing their hands and routinely cleaning frequently touched surfaces.

He's also asking restaurants and bars to ensure all their customers are seated, and not standing, as well as continuing to follow social distancing practices, even if it means operating at slightly less than full capacity.

"We like the path that we're on, the direction that we're moving," Holcomb said. "But we really have to just underscore how important it is for our citizens and our businesses to continue to make those adjustments and operate in a very safe manner."

"It has a huge impact beyond your personal space."

The governor's order does not immediately change the capacity and spacing restrictions aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19 in Indiana's 13 casinos, including the five gaming facilities in Northwest Indiana.

Sara Tait, executive director of the Indiana Gaming Commission, said her agency will review Holcomb's forthcoming executive order and listen to gaming industry leaders on how they propose moving forward with steps like reopening poker rooms, given the governor's recommendation that businesses continue promoting social distancing in their operations.

The governor's Stage 5 announcement came exactly six months to the day of his unprecedented March 23 executive order commanding Hoosiers to stay home, except for "essential" purchases and employment, following the initial spread of COVID-19 in Indiana.

Dr. Woody Myers, the Democratic candidate for governor, said it's wrong for Holcomb to take Indiana to Stage 5 when the state needs "more vigilance, not less."

"It was only recently that Indiana had the highest one day total of cases reported since the beginning of the pandemic. With the arrival of autumn, public health experts are warning we can soon expect a significant increase of new COVID-19 cases," Myers said.

"The pandemic isn't going away anytime soon — Gov. Holcomb's decision today is simply wrong."
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