Gov. Eric J. Holcomb signed an executive order on Friday mandating all Hoosiers to wear face coverings in indoor public spaces, effective Monday, July 27.
While it was originally announced those who choose to not follow the mandate can be charged with a Class B misdemeanor – punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,000 – the executive order states state and local health departments will be responsible for enforcing compliance and there are no criminal penalties.
The mandate applies to anyone age 8 and older in indoor public spaces, commercial entities or transportation services, or inside public spaces when people cannot social distance.
Masks will also be required in schools for students in third grade and up, faculty, staff, volunteers and anyone else in schools. They will also be required for co-curricular and extracurricular activities, with exceptions for strenuous physical activities.
Exceptions to the mandate will be made for medical purposes, strenuous physical activity, eating and drinking. Masks are strongly recommended, but not enforced for Hoosiers age two through seven, according to Holcomb’s order.
“We’ve arrived at this juncture because over the past several weeks a couple of things have happened,” Holcomb said during a teleconference at the State House on Wednesday afternoon. “There has been a rise in COVID-19 positivity across the state from a low of 3.6 percent just a month ago to where we find ourselves today with seven-day average rate of just about 7 percent. The last couple days it was closer to 8 percent. And as a lagging indicator, our overall hospital census has increased from about 600 a day near the end of June to about 800 where we are now.”
Holcomb noted that counties where cases remained low have begun seeing regular double-digit reports of cases, including Clark, Dubois, Kosciusko, Porter and Posey counties. Huntington County saw a peak of eight new cases reported in one day on July 9, with another more recent jump on seven new cases on July 18.
Holcomb says the mandate is an effort to keep the state moving toward reopening rather than backtracking or shutting down like other states have as a result of increasing COVID-19 positive numbers.
“If you tune into national news, our surrounding states are all experiencing increases in positive cases as well. We have as Hoosiers worked very hard to get to where we are today. Businesses are open and operating at various levels of capacity,” Holcomb said. “We’re eating in restaurants and we’re working in all kinds of facilities large and small. And we want to keep it that way. We want businesses to stay open. We want more Hoosiers to continue this trend of going back safely to work. We don’t want to dial it back or put it in reverse, or as some are, shutting down again. Face coverings can and will help us blunt this increase. It has in other places around the country, indeed around the world.”
Holcomb says “this is time sensitive now” as schools are planning to go back in just a few weeks. He says the return to school is “one of the most important reasons” for every Hoosier to wear face coverings in public.
“We’re asking our kids and our teachers to mask up and our kids should not be getting mixed messages throughout the day. When they leave school grounds, they need to see that everyone is doing what they’re doing. That best practices are best for all.”
The statewide mandate means mask use will be required in school. According to Holcomb, members of the Indiana State Teachers Association asked students in the sixth grade and above wear masks, but under the new mandate the state will require mandatory mask wearing for students in the third grade and above.
“When I asked you months ago to hunker down, you did, we did. And we slowed the spread. It’s just factual. And we protected our hospitals from becoming overrun,” Holcomb said. And we managed our supplies and our supply chains.
“And as we reopened segments of our economy, we knew cases would increase around the country and in Indiana,” he continued. “While we have continued to fare better than many other states, now we have to hunker down in a different way. Which is why wearing masks will become the fashion of the day.”
One of the most important steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 via asymptomatic transmission, according to Huntington County Public Health Nurse Emily Schamehorn, is wearing a face covering or mask while out in public.
“There are many misconceptions out there about wearing a mask – the mask does not protect you from other people, but it protects other people from you,” Schamehorn said. “So if you are one of the people who are carrying the virus and you don’t know it, many things that you do normally like talk or cough or sneeze could emit respiratory droplets that could have the virus in them. So it’s really important for everybody to wear a mask, in order to slow the spread, in order to keep those droplets in.”
Face masks or face coverings can be handmade and should fit over the nose and mouth and fit against the skin.
Americans are increasingly adopting the use of cloth face masks to slow the spread of COVID-19, according to the CDC. The CDC says there is increasing evidence that cloth face coverings help prevent people who have COVID-19 from spreading the virus to others.
“We are not defenseless against COVID-19,” said CDC Director Dr. Robert R. Redfield. “Cloth face coverings are one of the most powerful weapons we have to slow and stop the spread of the virus – particularly when used universally within a community setting. All Americans have a responsibility to protect themselves, their families, and their communities.”
The directive is being called “Mask up, Hoosiers” and will be effective on Monday, July 27.
“The simple act of covering our faces, as odd as it may feel, can help us prevent the transmission of the virus,” Holcomb said. “Which again is why this is the next prudent step that we as a state need to take.”
The executive order is in effect until at least Aug. 26. Local governments may impose more restrictive guidelines.