Governor backing schools on face mask mandates

By TOM DAVIES
The Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana’s governor gave his support Monday to the growing number of school districts across the state issuing mask mandates for students and staff as they try to head off more COVID-19 outbreaks.

Several of the state’s largest school districts in the Indianapolis area began requiring masks for indoor areas on Monday after starting the school year without such requirements, reacting to a growing number of COVID-19 infections among students as the more transmissible delta variant continues surging in the state.

Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb said he would continue his policy of allowing local officials to impose mask rules and other steps to stem the coronavirus spread even as several school boards have faced vocal — and sometimes misleading — opposition to such actions.

“I think the schools that are putting mask mandates into place are making a wise decision when the facts warrant it,” Holcomb said. “I’m not surprised by the pushback having lived through the last year and a half.”

Holcomb’s stance differs from that by Republican governors in Florida, Texas and other states that have issued statewide orders prohibiting mask-wearing mandates in schools.

In the past week week, 1,452 new COVID-19 cases were recorded among K-12 students in the state — four times more than the previous week, according to updated figures Monday from the Indiana Department of Health. An additional 80 teachers and 118 non-teaching staff also have tested positive for COVID-19 in the previous seven days, which is more than twice the number who tested positive the week before.

Statewide hospitalizations for COVID-19 have also continued growing to levels last seen in February. The state health department reported that Indiana hospitals were treating 1,462 virus patients as of Sunday — up by one-quarter from a week earlier and 380% of early July’s hospitalization level. Of those, 368 were intensive care unit patients.

Holcomb, who received a COVID-19 vaccination shot during a public event in March, said all of the 137 new COVID-19 patients in Indiana’s intensive care units last week were unvaccinated.

“I will go as so far as to say the only thing to fear about the vaccine is fear itself,” Holcomb said. “The numbers prove that it works.”

About 45% of Indiana residents are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the 16th lowest rate among the states, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Six large Indianapolis-area school districts — the Carmel, Hamilton Southeastern and Noblesville schools in Hamilton County and Lawrence Township, Washington Township and Pike Township districts in Marion County — began requiring masks on Monday. The Merrillville schools in northwestern Indiana’s Lake County will require masks when it resumes classes on Wednesday.

Indianapolis Public Schools, the state’s largest district, was among the first to announce last month that it would require masks for all staff and students, regardless of vaccination status.

The Shenandoah school district, a rural district in eastern Indiana’s Henry County, began on Monday two weeks of online-only instructions because a large number of COVID-19 infections. Another rural district in southern Indiana’s Scott County took the same action last week.

Hamilton Southeastern’s superintendent said the district had tracked 80 COVID-19 infections among students and more than 500 students had been notified as close contacts during the past two weeks.

“These changes are what we believe will keep our students learning in person in their classrooms,” Superintendent Yvonne Stokes said. “And that’s our goal.”




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