Gov. Eric Holcomb said Wednesday he couldn't disagree more with the Northwest Allen County Schools parent who claimed the coronavirus is not a killer.
“This is a mass killer,” Holcomb said during his weekly COVID-19 briefing. “There are over 6,000 folks that have lost their life to this virus just in our long-term care centers and twice that when you total 'em up.”
The governor was responding to a question from The Journal Gazette about why masks will be required through the end of the academic year when data shows students are least affected by infections, hospitalizations and deaths.
Dozens of unmasked adults attended a NACS board meeting Monday, calling on leaders to drop the mask mandate. They spoke for about an hour, relaying stories of children shamed and disciplined for not wearing masks properly and other alleged hardships, including skin irritations, the loss of facial communication and enabling shy children to hide.
Per Holcomb's order, the statewide mask mandate becomes an advisory Tuesday except for state government buildings and K-12 schools.
“There are precautions that we need to take,” Holcomb said. “And obviously with eight, nine weeks left in the school year it's working, and we want to continue that.”
Travis Striggle was the parent Holcomb referred to and he responded Wednesday, asking Holcomb if he knows the possible long-term effects of mask-wearing on kids.
He said the health, mental and social impacts of wearing masks are worse than the slim chance a child will get the virus and even slimmer chance they would die.
“It makes me sick watching my daughters put on the masks every day,” Striggle said, noting both he and his wife had COVID-19 and their children never had symptoms.
NACS Superintendent Chris Himsel, who kept his mask on Monday despite audience members telling him to remove it, said mask-wearing is one of the five main mitigation strategies the district implemented this academic year. Together, he said during the meeting, the precautions have kept in-school transmissions of the virus low.
Some students are vulnerable to the coronavirus, Himsel added, and there are parents who want more stringent policies implemented. Most children also can't get vaccinated yet, State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box said.
Eligibility opened to ages 16 and older Wednesday, making the vaccine available to more than 1.3 million additional Hoosiers.
The total population eligible for vaccination has surpassed 5.4 million.
“I think it's really important that families feel comfortable that their children can go to school right now and not have an increased risk because we know the masks have been working in school,” Box said. “Once we are able to have more people vaccinated, I think that makes a lot more sense to not have the masks.”