Health officer urges businesses to require masks

Marlena Sloss/The Herald
Joan Welp, 82, of Jasper, unloads groceries after shopping at Walmart today in Jasper. Welp has been getting her groceries delivered by others and today was her first time out of the house in 11 weeks. "With the pandemic going on and at my age, it's necessary to wear a mask to be safe," she said.

By ALLEN LAMAN
alaman@dcherald.com

JASPER — Dubois County Health Officer Dr. Ted Waflart wants his request to be crystal clear.

The Dubois County Health Department won’t require businesses to mandate that their customers wear face masks. But as he sees and hears of more and more residents ignoring public health and safety guidelines, Waflart is urging all businesses to implement policies that require the masks.

“Getting out in the community, I’ve seen it myself, and other people are starting to complain [and] call us about it,” Waflart said. “A lot of people aren’t following the guidance of social distancing and especially wearing masks. That’s the big thing.”

He’d previously told The Herald that he would adopt a harsher tone in his public messages if he heard of an increase in people not adhering to the department’s guidelines. In a Wednesday conference call with Tammy Humbert, the county’s emergency management agency director, Waflart shared that he is becoming aggravated.

“It almost seems like some people are just too carefree about it,” Waflart said. “Or defying the advice. And I’m not happy with that. I feel like overall, the county has been doing good, but that there are more and more people ignoring the advice.”

He continued: “And we’re not going to get back on track. Our numbers are not going down like we would like. And we may have to put a freeze on the reopening, or even go backwards if people don’t try harder, I guess.”

When asked what it would take for measures like that to be implemented locally, Waflart stressed that the county is not currently on the brink of shutting down again. He said that “we’re just trying to nip this in the bud and make sure it doesn’t happen.”

Decisions to pause reopening plans or go backward would ultimately be made in conjunction with the Dubois County Commissioners. Waflart would make a recommendation and work directly with that group.

Humbert explained that while the statewide reopening can lull people into relaxing their practicing of precautions, they are still important at this time. Waflart realizes that some professionals disagree with the widespread guidelines, but he also said most specialists and experts support following them.

“There’s other advice, but I have to recommend following where I think the most sound advice comes from,” he explained. “I follow the most sound advice or recommendations that I can find.”

Earlier in the interview, Humbert said: “We just want to stress the importance of still continuing to wear masks, still continuing to wash your hands, still continuing to do the social distancing.”

She is aware that people “feel funny” when they wear a mask, and added that they aren’t alone. Wearing a mask, though, is still an important protective measure, she said.

“Yeah, we all feel a little funny wearing our masks,” she said. “But it’s just what we need to do to protect each other. Because [COVID-19 is] still here.”

For businesses, Humbert spoke of encouraging the expansion of a popular dress code adage.

“Maybe have a ‘no shoes, no shirt, no mask, no service,’” she said, “to really encourage those businesses to require masks inside their stores. That’s the right thing to do right now until we get through this.”

When speaking about the feedback he has received from businesses, Waflart said some have told him they can’t tell their customers what to do.

“But they can tell them what to do,” Waflart stressed. “They do have a right to not let people in if they don’t have a mask on. And I’m encouraging them to do just that. We don’t have the right as a health department to tell their customers what they can do and can’t do, but a business can.”

He also said that while establishments may fear they’ll lose business if guests are required to wear masks, they could also be missing out on customers who avoid them because people inside aren’t following guidelines.

Waflart believes those who aren’t wearing masks are being discourteous and inconsiderate to the people who are — especially older people who need to leave their homes.

“It’s like I tell my daughter all the time,” Humbert said. “We’re not any different now in June than we were at the end of March, ultimately. The disease is still here. There’s still not a vaccine for it. So, we still have to continue to do everything we’ve been doing since March.”

Waflart said masks should be worn anywhere in public — indoors or outdoors — unless people can absolutely maintain a distance beyond 6 feet between themselves and others. Protective coverings should always be worn inside stores, he said, and social distancing measures should continue to be practiced even while masked.

Humbert and Waflart both expressed gratitude to the many county residents who are following the department’s guidelines.

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