Update: The online version of this story was edited to include details from guidelines laid out in the Stage 4.5 document as part of Indiana’s Back on Track plan. Also, clarifications were added to include a quote from Chris May, who said he was misquoted and to also show the death rate percentage is for people who test positive for the virus, not the entire populations of Elkhart County or the state of Indiana.

GOSHEN — About 100 people gathered along the sidewalks of the Elkhart County Courthouse to protest Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb’s mask mandate Monday.

One of the organizers, Chris May, of Goshen, said science does not back the mandate.

"I understand positive testing is at an all time high but we have a death rate nearly at zero and a survival rate nearly at 100% for the state. I don't understand why we aren't promoting these numbers to encourage the people".

May questioned the need for a mask mandate if the rates are low. He believes businesses, churches and schools should be able to decide on their own about masks. Children not going back to school could impact their social skills and make them more fearful, May, a father of two young children, said.

The Indiana State Department of Health’s website Monday showed 561 new cases of COVID-19 were reported statewide Sunday along with three new deaths. The new cases brought Indiana’s total to 62,907 since March, including 2,709 deaths.

Elkhart County reported 34 new cases and one new death Monday. The county’s total since March is 4,378 cases and 71 deaths. The county’s death rate for those who test positive for COVID-19 is about 1.6%. Indiana’s death rate is about 4.3%.

A group of protesters will be going to Indianapolis Aug. 8, and there may be another rally locally, May said. The group has a Facebook event page, Stand Against Indiana Mask order.

As for Monday’s rally, “I am encouraged about the number of elderly who are out here supporting this,” May said.

Many protesters held signs, including those that read, “Stand against Indiana mask order,” and “Is this still America?”

One of those in attendance was State Rep. Curt Nisly. “I am here to listen to what the people are saying,” he said. “They have lots of reasons to be frustrated. … I do support what they’re doing in that the mask order is unconstitutional.”

He pointed out that the only way to make a law is to go through the state Legislature, and the governor failed to do that. Nisly said the governor can enact an emergency order for 30 days.

“He is well over 100 days since the original order,” he said.

Right now, Nisly said, the governor should be calling a special session of the Legislature so lawmakers can enact a mask law or empower him to do so.

“He’s had plenty of time to call this legislature back into session,” Nisly said.

He explained that early on in the pandemic, Holcomb said it was not necessary to call back legislators. The state had received $3.4 billion from the federal government through the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Act, and Holcomb did not need legislative authority to spend the money, Nisly said. The money, he explained, is what was used for testing and contact tracing.

But since then, a special session should have been called regarding anything concerning crimes and punishments, he said, adding, “That’s the only way the law can become a law is to go through the Legislature.”

Lori Arnold, of Goshen, said she believes COVID-19-related orders and mandates are being used as political tools.

“I am so tired of our politicians,” Arnold said. “I believe, myself, that a lot of this stuff is political. A lot of it doesn’t make sense. Like, the churches not being able to have people in them, but the bars and the restaurants can have a certain capacity. There’s just so many things that we, a lot of us, feel that we’re being used. This is all being used political, instead of by science.”

Current state guidelines allow restaurants, bars and nightclubs to be open at limited capacities. Churches and places of worship can also hold in-person services under separate recommendations.

Indiana continues to operate under the special Stage 4.5 under Holcomb’s five-stage “Back on Track” plan for reopening sectors of the state’s economy. The plan was unveiled in May following the stay-at-home orders, quarantines and business closures that resulted in response to the first cases of COVID-19 in the state in March.

Stage 4.5, which is scheduled to run through Friday, includes guidelines that allow social gatherings of up to 250 people as long as social distancing recommendations are followed; restaurants and bars with restaurant services can have dining rooms open at 75% capacity; and seating at bar rails can operate at 50% capacity.

Religious services are excluded from the Stage 4.5 guidelines, according to the online document. Separate guidance, shown on the state’s “Back on Track” website, recommends churches and places of worship continue to stream services or host drive-in services. Recommendations for organizations that hold services in person include maintaining social distancing, such as spacing seating or alternating rows; cleaning and disinfecting surfaces, and providing hand sanitizers; avoiding handouts of materials, as well as encouraging non-contact greetings; and encouraging the use of facemasks indoors.

Monday’s protest began around 3 p.m., participants said, and wrapped up shortly after 5 p.m.

Aimee Ambrose can be reached at aimee.ambrose@goshennews.com or 574-533-2151, ext. 240316. Follow her on Twitter at @aambrose_TGN.

Aimee Ambrose can be reached at aimee.ambrose@goshennews.com or 574-533-2151, ext. 240316. Follow her on Twitter at @aambrose_TGN.

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