Masks, distancing still in place in final stage


Just because the state is moving into the last stage of reopening the economy does not mean the COVID-19 virus is gone.

“The pandemic is here. It’s real,” Jasper Mayor Dean Vonderheide said. “We’ve lost citizens as a result of it; people have gotten very ill.”

Gov. Eric Holcomb announced at his Wednesday afternoon COVID-19 briefing that he will advance the state to an updated version of Stage 5 of the “Back on Track Indiana” plan. He also extended the state’s face covering rule until at least Oct. 17. The governor also signed an executive order extending the public health emergency an additional 30 days.

“Indiana continues to experience steady health indicators as Hoosiers change their habits to wash our hands more, practice social distancing and wear face coverings,” Holcomb said in a press release on Thursday. “This allows us to continue to get Indiana back on track, and I urge Hoosiers to keep up their vigilance, especially as the days get cooler, so schools and businesses can remain open.”

Vonderheide is concerned that people will completely disregard all the precautions.

“What I'm afraid of is that people will just say, ‘Oh I don't have to wear a mask anymore.’ That's not necessarily the case; it's only when you can't socially distance,” he said. “Social distancing is the No. 1 thing. And if you can't social distance, then you wear a mask.”

Vonderheide is one of the local leaders that implemented the “Together We Thrive” plan to help guide the reopening of the local economy. Leaders from Huntingburg, Ferdinand, Jasper and the county put the packet together in May. The stipulations in the packet and stages of reopening follow the state’s plan.

“It loosens things up a little bit, and allows our restaurants to go to full capacity,” Vonderheide said of the announcement. “And it allows events that are greater than 250 to take place now. Those are two real keys for our local economy.”

Under the latest change, organizers of events with more than 500 people in attendance will be required to submit a plan to the local health department that outlines measures to mitigate COVID-19. That was already being done for organized events with more than 250 people, Vonderheide said.

Restaurants and bars that serve food may open at full capacity as long as 6 feet of space to maintain social distancing is in place. Customers must be seated at a table or counter. Indoor and outdoor venues may open at full capacity with social distancing measures in place. Senior centers and congregate meal sites may open with precautions. Personal services and gyms and fitness centers may resume normal operations with social distancing safeguards and cleaning protocols in place.

Local governments may impose more restrictive guidelines. But the plan in Dubois County has always been to follow the state’s lead.

Local officials welcome the changes.

“One, the statistics are showing that we were stabilizing, that it wasn't growing anymore. The use of the masks was making a difference,” Vonderheide said. “And two, just from an economic standpoint, our businesses are still struggling; by allowing a little expansion on that. It gives them the opportunity to still survive.”

Officials caution people to not think that everything is back to the way it was before the pandemic started in the spring.

“Just because the governor has made this move does not mean it's over with,” Vonderheide said. “We have to continue being diligent with our precautions.”

He recalled when the state moved to Stage 4.5 during the July 4 weekend, “people kind of went overboard and weren't doing what they were supposed to do. They thought it was all over with.”

“It's not over with,” Vonderheide said. “And we're entering the flu season. What we do for COVID is also good to the flu. Still practice good health, personal hygiene and all that. Do sanitization. Do all those things the health department and the state have requested.

“We will get through this.”

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