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(INDIANAPOLIS) – Indiana is clearing the way for dedicated coronavirus units in nursing homes, even if local authorities object.

A State Department of Health order authorizes shuffling patients within facilities or into new ones to keep those who have the virus separate from those who don’t. The state isn’t requiring nursing homes to create COVID-19 units, but the order invalidates any local attempts to block it.

Health commissioner Kristina Box says the close quarters in long-term care, and the underlying health conditions residents often have, make it easy for the virus to spread once it gets started. She says being able to create coronavirus-only units cuts off the virus’s opportunities to infect more people, and suggests it may have benefits apart from the virus. She says she’s received reports from dementia units where residents placed in isolation because of the pandemic have stopped eating and become more withdrawn. She says a self-contained unit of patients who already have the virus would be able to interact again and enjoy better quality of life.

22 residents of Anderson’s Bethany Pointe nursing home have died of coronavirus, and there have been smaller clusters at facilities around the state. On Tuesday, Box announced the first coronavirus death of an Indiana prison inmate, at Westville.