STATEWIDE -- Indiana will require masks starting Monday.
Governor Holcomb has supported a handful of cities and counties who issued mask orders, but had resisted a statewide requirement. He says he changed his mind after watching the number and rate of coronavirus cases go up and stay up -- and after seeing news photos of people mingling without masks.
Indiana is averaging nearly 800 new cases a day, double the average a month ago. Holcomb says that includes areas which had previously been spared the worst of the pandemic, from Dubois and Posey Counties in southwest Indiana to Porter and Kosciusko Counties in the north.
Anyone age 8 and up will have to wear a mask in all indoor public and commercial spaces, including schools, or in outdoor areas where social distancing isn't possible. The order will include exceptions, including for some medical conditions. Violating the order is a misdemeanor carrying up to six months in jail and a thousand-dollar fine, but Holcomb says he won't be sending out the "mask police" to issue tickets. He says he's still hoping to appeal to Hoosiers' sense of civic duty. He says the state has made progress in reopening businesses, and says he doesn't want to have to reimpose restrictions, as other states have. He says masks are a simple step to do that.
Lindsay Weaver, chief medical officer for the Indiana State Department of Health, says studies indicate masks reduce the odds of transmitting the virus by 80-percent. Family and Social Services Secretary Jennifer Sullivan compares the order to the "Click It or Ticket" campaign which accompanied the imposition of a seat-belt requirement. She says the combination of the law and the public-education campaign boosted seat belt use from 18-percent to 88-percent in 16 months.
31 states now require masks, with seven announcing mask requirements in the last week. Holcomb's announcement came less than an hour after Ohio became the last of Indiana's neighbors to add a mask mandate.
Holcomb says he's talked to several fellow governors with worse virus resurgences than Indiana who have told him they wish they'd required masks sooner. He says he doesn't want to be in the same position a week from now. And Holcomb says with schools starting to reopen, kids shouldn't be getting one message about the importance of masks at school and a different one when they leave.
The state is also issuing guidelines for how schools should handle virus cases among students or staff. The state is encouraging schools to group students together in "pods" to reduce the number of contacts, and make contact tracing easier in the event of an infection. The guidelines call for a pod with at least one case or a class with at least two to shut down, with students quarantining at home for two weeks while health officials test the patient's contacts.
Following Wednesday’s announcement, Jasper Mayor Dean Vonderheide and Huntingburg mayor Denny Spinner issued statements supporting the decision.
Jasper Mayor Dean Vonderheide’s statement on the state-wide mask mandate:
“Governor Holcomb today announced a Mask Mandate for all Hoosiers beginning Monday, 7/27/2020, to address the escalating risks of COVID-19 across the State. I support the Governor’s action as it is the step that was under consideration here in Dubois County. Our County currently has the highest rate of COVID-19 per capita across the entire state.
Memorial Hospital and Healthcare Center and Dubois County Health Department have expressed the need to support mandatory masks due to recent trends in metrics. Today, we also recorded two additional deaths attributed to COVID-19. By following the Governor’s Executive Order we can minimize risks in the future.
Citizens of Jasper and Dubois County must be part of the solution as we wish to avoid another “stay-at-home” order or the ultimate consequence, loss of loved ones.”
Mayor Denny Spinner's statement....
"Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Eric Holcomb has lead Indiana through this challenging time with a clear vision and a path to bring our state “Back on Track.” Despite our efforts, the Governor today found it in our best interests to mandate the wearing of masks.
As the number of positive tests in our state, and more urgently to me, in our county, continue to rise, I support the Governor in taking this step and am urging residents of Huntingburg, Dubois County and Indiana to comply with the Governor’s order to “Hunker Down” and allow our schools to reopen and our businesses to continue to rebound from the effects of the pandemic."