Health dept recommends masks despite mandate lift

By CHRISTINE STEPHENSON
cstephenson@dcherald.com

JASPER — Dubois County’s mask mandate was lifted Tuesday, in line with the state’s decision, meaning that people are now free to go maskless in more public spaces.

The county health department said in a press release this week that individuals are still required to wear face coverings inside all state government buildings, outside on state property where social distancing can’t be maintained, at COVID-19 testing and vaccination sites and at K-12 educational facilities.

However, the county department is still highly recommending that masks be worn in all public places where social distancing is difficult, Administrative Director Shawn Werner said.

“We’re not going to police it as much as we were before, but we still want people to follow the rules,” Werner said. “Obviously, we want to try to maintain this current condition we’re in, at the low to minimal spread, because we don’t want to have a fourth wave.”

Some major retailers such as Walmart, Home Depot and CVS have publicly stated that masks are still required in their facilities. In places that no longer require masks, Werner said people should use their discretion based on their comfort level.

“If you still feel like wearing a mask makes you comfortable, then I would still highly encourage those individuals to do so,” he said. “If they get into a facility that people aren’t wearing masks and they’re uncomfortable with it, they have every right to leave, just like everybody else.”

In general, most vulnerable populations, such as the elderly or immunocompromised, should have had the opportunity to get vaccinated by now. It’s a personal choice whether to get vaccinated, Werner said, but if individuals feel unsafe and haven’t yet been vaccinated, he recommends doing so.

Vaccination appointments through the county health department are already booked out for several weeks, according to ourshot.in.gov. Those looking to get an appointment sooner than that can use the same website to find availability at local pharmacies and stores such as Walmart and Meijer, as well as health departments in other nearby counties.

Additionally, there are still about 400 appointment slots open for the April 17 mass clinic at Jasper Middle School, Werner said. This clinic will provide Johnson & Johnson vaccines, which only require one dose but can only be received by those 18 and up. Those looking to register for the clinic can visit ourshot.in.gov and choose “Dubois Co HD Covid Jvax” or call 211.

In general, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends staying masked unless fully vaccinated and meeting with small groups of people, such as family or friends, who are also fully vaccinated.

Beyond that, there’s still a lot both the CDC and the county need to figure out in terms of when it’s safe to go without a mask, Werner said.

“That’s still kind of a gray area,” he said. “I think that’s going to be an ever-changing thing.”

Cases have recently risen in several Indiana counties, according to the state health department’s COVID-19 dashboard. Dubois County has been toggling back and forth from the blue to yellow advisory level, which Werner said isn’t necessarily something to worry too much about yet, considering even a small number of cases can tip the scale.

The county health department will soon have to prepare guidelines for large events and gatherings that will take place in the spring and summer months, Werner said.

“There’s going to be a bunch of them coming, so that’s definitely going to be an issue that we’re going to have to work on,” he said.




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