ELKHART — In addition to giving a green light to plans for reopening schools and athletic programs after a shutdown in March because of the spread of the coronavirus, the county's health officer late Friday also announced Elkhart County would immediately join the rest of the state in a general reopening of public activities. 

Elkhart County will enter Stage 4.5 on Saturday in the state's five-stage plan for reopening, Dr. Lydia Mertz said Friday.

"This was possible because of decreasing positivity rates over the past week," Mertz said. 

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb's "Back on Track" proposal to reopen the state in five stages stopped just before the final phase was scheduled to begin, a point he called "Stage 4.5," just before the Fourth of July.

However, because of a surge in infections, Elkhart County remained in Stage 4, which limited the size of public gatherings, restricted bar and restaurant capacities, and other mandates designed to slow the spread of the virus. 

"I applaud all the citizens who worked together to wear masks in public, distance themselves, use hand hygiene, and stay home when sick," Mertz said in the letter. "Your efforts got us closer to controlling the spread of the SARS-Co-V-2 virus in our county. Our positivity rates have gone from 13.7% to 8.4% recently, allowing us to move toward a bit more openness."

A second statewide continuation of Stage 4.5 through Aug. 27 was part of an executive order signed by the governor on Thursday. 

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