INDIANAPOLIS (AP/WANE) — Indiana’s statewide face mask mandate has been extended by Gov. Eric Holcomb for 30 days. It was set to expire this week and is aimed at slowing the coronavirus spread.

Holcomb, made the extension announcement during his Wednesday afternoon COVID-19 update news conference. Last month Holcomb said the mask order was needed because of a renewed growth in the number of COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations across Indiana.

“They share a frustration that I think people are feeling in 49 other states,” Holcomb said of Hoosiers complaining about the mask mandate. “But we have to deal with reality.”

“We have to do what we can do as Hoosiers,” Dr. Kristina Box added.

The governor also announced a plan for Indiana to remain in Stage 4.5 of the state’s Back on Track Plan for another 30 days. No changes are allowed to be made in the in capacity restrictions for restaurants, bars and entertainment venues until September 26.

Holcomb announced the most recent continuation of the plan as the state’s COVID-19 positivity rate plateaued. As of Monday, the amount of hospitalizations continued to have risen though from a low seen back in June.

Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson joined Holcomb during the weekly press conference Wednesday to address the upcoming election.

“We’ve been working feverishly behind the scenes to protect poll workers and voters,” Lawson explained.

According to Lawson, poll workers and covers will be given face masks, gloves and hand sanitizers. Sneeze guards are also planned for polling locations.

An influx of absentee ballots has been seen already. About 99,000 applications have been sent in for mail-in-ballots. That’s up from nearly 54,000 in 2016. Lawson said applications must be in the mail by October 19 and the ballots must be sent by October 27.

State health officials on Wednesday recorded 18 more coronavirus-related deaths.

That raised the state’s pandemic death toll to 3,259, including confirmed and presumed coronavirus cases.

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