INDIANAPOLIS (WANE) — Indiana will lift its mask mandate and make the COVID-19 vaccine eligible to residents 16 and up, Gov. Eric Holcomb announced in a state address Tuesday evening.

On March 31, Hoosiers 16 and up will be eligible to receive the coronavirus vaccine, the governor said. This decision was made after the state learned that they would see a large increase in the amount of vaccine that will be coming to the state.

The state will conduct a large employer vaccination program that will provide an even more convenient way to get vaccinated. Gov. Holcomb also announced that the state will schedule additional mass vaccination clinics in April.

On April 6, the state’s mask mandate will become an advisory, Holcomb announced. Face coverings will remain mandatory in all state buildings and facilities as well as in all vaccination and COVID testing sites until further notice. K-12 schools will continue under current requirements through the remainder of the 2020-21 school year. 

That same day, all venue capacity limits will be decided by local officials.

“The state department of health will continue to provide county metrics each week, color coded, which are key to knowing whether virus levels are increasing or decreasing locally,” Gov. Holcomb said. “But the metrics will be guidelines for local consideration regarding size limits for each social gathering.”

Holcomb said the restrictions were lifted because current cases, positive rate, hospitalizations and deaths have all dropped drastically, and three vaccines are in use. He said he chose April 6 because out of state visitors, presumably associated with the NCAA basketball tournaments, will be gone then.

In addition, customers at bars, restaurants and nightclubs will no longer be required to be seated.

Six feet of spacing between tables and non-household parties will still be recommended, the governor said. Social distancing is still recommended.

WANE 15 is in the process of reaching out to major grocery store chains to see how the announcement will affect their mask policies. So far Kroger has been the only company to respond. A spokesperson said the company has no response other than the mask policy “will not change at this time, but remains under weekly review.”

“Hospitals may return to a normal state when scheduling non-emergency procedures and surgeries were occurring,” Gov. Holcomb announced.

The state public health emergency will be renewed for another 30 days, beginning April 1, Gov. Holcomb announced. This declaration allows the state to act quickly if conditions take a turn for the worse and allows the state to continue to access hundreds of millions of federal dollars to support Hoosiers recovering from the impacts of the pandemic.

“As we continue to isolate if you test positive, quarantine if you’re a close contact, and get vaccinated when you’re eligible, the light at the end of the tunnel becomes brighter and brighter,” Gov. Holcomb said. “It’s up to each and every one of us to do our part to stay on our course.”

Holcomb made the announcement a year to the day after he first issued his “hunker down” stay-home order in an attempt to curtail the spread of the coronavirus.

Holcomb’s announcement comes as the state Department of Health reported 701 new coronavirus cases and 18 more deaths tied to the virus on Tuesday. All told, Indiana has tallied 679,079 total cases, and 12,553 Hoosiers have died of the virus.

Daily case numbers and deaths have fallen steadily since December, though, and 70% of the state’s counties sit in the health department’s lowest advisory level.

Holcomb called the last 12 months an “unimaginable year,” but said he was proud of Hoosiers for meeting the challenge.

“Indiana indeed rose to the challenge time and time again,” Holcomb said.

Holcomb will renew the state’s public health emergency another 30 days so the state can continue to receive federal funding, he said.