Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry announced mask requirements for city buildings and vaccination incentives for city employees Thursday.
The announcement followed a day in which 264 more Allen County residents tested positive for COVID-19. The Allen County Department of Health said Thursday another local resident has died of the virus.
Regardless of vaccination status, masks are required in city-owned facilities, including Citizens Square, the Fort Wayne Metropolitan Human Relations Commission office, Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation Department office, Parks and Recreation pavilions, community centers, youth centers, the Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory and Fort Wayne Animal Care and Control.
Henry also released details of a voluntary vaccination incentive program for city employees. Employees do not have to report their vaccination status to the city, but if they choose to report their vaccination with written proof, they will receive $200, Henry said.
The incentive money will come from excess health care costs paid by employees.
Henry hopes the city's initiatives will inspire private sector employers to consider mask mandates for their employees. Getting residents vaccinated is the city's top priority, he added.
“It doesn't appear as though the pandemic will end any time soon,” he said. “We must commit ourselves to getting vaccinated, masking up, practice social distancing and using good judgment. I know that Fort Wayne can do this.”
Henry set a deadline of Nov. 1, by which the city will have put additional incentives “or disincentives, if you will” into place, he said. The measures released Thursday are a good starting point, he added.
“We have 1,800 full-time employees that we feel should set an example for the rest of our citizens,” he said.
When employees get a flu shot through the city, they will also have the opportunity to get vaccinated for COVID-19 at the same time.
Dr. Matthew Sutter, county health commissioner, also spoke at the news conference to update people on the recent spread of the coronavirus in the community, as well as to ask people to get vaccinated.
Allen County's average daily case count is about 250. In the middle of June, the county's average count was less than 10 each day. Hospitals aren't overwhelmed, he said, but the surge has put a strain on hospitals.
The state reported Thursday that 23 more Hoosiers have died of coronavirus and 5,222 residents have tested positive for COVID-19 statewide. During the pandemic, 14,101 people in Indiana have died because of the virus, and the state has had 868,451 cases.
To date, 717 Allen County residents have died of COVID-19, and the county has had 49,612 cases.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has shared that vaccinated people who get COVID-19 are hospitalized less often than those who are not vaccinated, but Sutter said data is also showing that most of the positive cases are also people who are not vaccinated.
“This is why vaccination remains such an important piece in our overall mitigation strategy,” he said. “There is no silver bullet to stop the spread of COVID-19 in our community. What we have is a number of different things that working together can control it.”
Sutter reiterated the same community recommendations he shared during last week's advisory: get vaccinated, practice social distancing and wear a mask in indoor public places, even for those who are fully vaccinated.
He added that he encourages boards to take a closer look at mask mandates at schools.
Gov. Eric Holcomb announced Wednesday that for schools where everyone wears masks for the duration of school days, students and staff will not need to quarantine if they have had close contact but don't have symptoms.
Fort Wayne Community Schools and Northwest Allen County Schools have mandated masks. East Allen County Schools board agenda for Tuesday's meeting includes updating the mask policy as part of revisions to the Return to School plan.
Purdue Fort Wayne also announced Thursday its mask mandate will continue until at least Sept. 30.
“My role is to give schools a fighting chance to stay open, despite the fact that we have this huge spike at the beginning of the school session,” Sutter said. “And I think this is one of the best ways to do it.”