The Journal Gazette
Saturday, July 25, 2020 1:00 am

Mask decree issued but no legal penalty

Wording changed after criticism

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – Gov. Eric Holcomb on Friday officially issued an executive order requiring Hoosiers to wear face coverings – but one without enforcement teeth.

It came as Indiana eclipsed the 1,000-case mark Friday with a single-day record of 1,011 new COVID-19 cases.

The governor on Wednesday announced the new mask mandate, saying it would be a Class B misdemeanor to violate it. But he backed down after several GOP state lawmakers opposed the requirement – especially criminal penalties. Indiana's attorney general also questioned Holcomb's legal authority.

Several police departments and county sheriffs posted statements saying they would not enforce a mask mandate.

The exact wording in the order now says “state and local health departments shall be responsible for enforcing compliance through education about the importance of wearing face coverings and dispelling myths and misconceptions about the use and/or benefits of the requirement.”

For comparison, the stay-at-home order issued by Holcomb in March said the order “may be enforced by state and local law enforcement ... to the extent set forth in Indiana law.”

“Hoosiers have worked hard to get where we are today with businesses open and people back at work. We want to keep it that way,” Holcomb said. “We don't want to dial things back. Face coverings can and will help us blunt the increase of this virus.”

There are exemptions for a person with a medical condition that prevents wearing of masks; eating and drinking; strenuous physical activity; and several others.

A statement from Republican Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray was tepid. It was five members of the Senate Republican caucus that immediately asked the attorney general to weigh in on the mask mandate.

“Senate Republicans have been in close contact with the governor since his announcement of the new mask mandate earlier this week. We are very pleased to see that the executive order he signed today does not include a criminal penalty for noncompliance, and we will continue to provide input in our role as part of the legislative branch of state government,” Bray said.

Those who applauded the governor Wednesday for issuing the mandate weren't so kind Friday.

“A mask order with no penalty gives Hoosiers no reassurance that their safety is being put first by the governor,” said Dr. Woody Myers, the Democrat running for governor against Holcomb.

“Who's in charge of Indiana? Junk science armchair politicos like Todd Rokita and President Trump? He had one job, to listen to experts, but instead, Gov. Eric Holcomb is risking Hoosiers' lives.”

Friday's numbers released by the Indiana State Department of Health showed 8% of COVID-19 tests were positive. That is about the same as it has been in the last week but up from below 5% in June.

There were four new deaths Friday. In total, 2,687 Hoosiers have died of COVID-19 and 60,598 Indiana residents are known to be infected by the coronavirus, the state said.

Another Allen County resident also died from COVID-19 and 32 tested positive, bringing the total to 3,279 cases and 150 deaths Friday.

Statewide hospital admissions related to COVID-19 are at 850, up from a low of 595 on June 26. The highest number of COVID-19 hospital admissions was 1,799 on April 13.

Previously, the single-day high in new cases was 954 on Thursday. But that number was revised downward by state health officials to 945. The highest number of new cases previously was 946 on April 26.

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