The Journal Gazette
Thursday, July 23, 2020 1:00 am

Holcomb issues mask mandate

Indiana 31st state to do so; order goes in effect Monday

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – Gov. Eric Holcomb on Wednesday joined a chorus of states by mandating that Hoosiers wear masks starting Monday.

“The simple act of covering our faces ... can help us prevent the transmission of the virus,” he said.

The requirement came after President Donald Trump on Tuesday called wearing a mask patriotic.

Holcomb said he hopes that having alignment at the local, state and national level will convince people to follow the mandate.

“Will there be hard-headed people? Yes. I get it. This is nothing that I wanted to do ... this is what the reality is, and so I ask people to recognize that the sooner we get through this, the better.”

He plans to sign an executive order today requiring anyone 8 years or older to wear a face covering in public indoor places; public transportation; and outdoor public spaces when it isn't possible to distance.

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce immediately welcomed the news. Businesses have borne the brunt of requiring customers to wear face coverings.

“Too many Indiana companies, employees and their families are in their fifth month of financial turmoil. That will not change and our economy will not be on the full road to recovery until some certainty is brought to this uncontrolled pandemic,” said Chamber President and CEO Kevin Brinegar. “The wearing of masks is a proven strategy for protecting others and enhancing our health – both physical and economic.

“Governor Holcomb's order is a necessary step at this time in continuing to reopen Indiana safely.”

Holcomb said face coverings can and will blunt the increases in cases, noting that it has worked elsewhere. And he said it can be a mask, a scarf – even a T-shirt tied around your mouth and nose.

He added that the mandate is time-sensitive because schools are reopening. He said children shouldn't get mixed messages when they coem home from school.

It will be a Class B misdemeanor to not wear a mask, but Holcomb said there won't be “mask police” prowling the streets.

The governor said COVID-19 positivity has risen from a low of 3.6% a month ago to a seven-day average rate of 7%. As a lagging indicator, hospitalization related to COVID-19 has increased from about 600 a day at the end of June to about 800 now.

Holcomb also said some counties that weren't even a blip before are now regularly reporting double-digit counts of new cases.

He said there will be exceptions to the mask mandate for medical reasons, eating and drinking, and strenuous physical activity.

Holcomb also pressed schools to have some in-person education as more schools are delaying or moving to online-only instruction. And he declined to set a single start date for schools.

“Some schools have decided to begin the academic year 100% virtual, and I respect that decision. And I hope it's only temporary,” Holcomb said. “But I want school districts to be very mindful of what that decision means holistically for the family.

“Please consider opening your buildings and providing transportation for students who need a safe site to participate in their online learning while virtual learning is in session.”

Three doctors from the governor's administration also on Wednesday addressed misinformation on masks – saying they don't decrease oxygen levels or cause toxic diseases.

Holcomb said seeing pictures of people gathered in groups with fewer than 20% wearing masks helped spark the mandate. But he said it was less about the calls for a requirement and more about Indiana's increasing numbers.

A USA Today analysis of Johns Hopkins University data showed a new weekly record for Indiana cases at 5,169 – nearly 8% higher than the state's worst week in April.

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