Officials considering mask mandate


Local officials are discussing possibly mandating that masks be worn in businesses and other public facilities.

“Many businesses and others say there needs to be a mandate,” Commissioner Chad Blessinger said at Monday’s Dubois County Commissioners meeting. “And there will be people who will say we are overstepping our bounds if we make a mandate.”

The idea is being discussed because there has been a noticeable increase in the number of Dubois County residents who have COVID-19. In response to this, last week local officials came together via a livestream to publicly urge people to wear masks. That included health officials and leaders from the different municipalities in the county. They issued a proclamation recommending that masks be used any time residents are interacting with others outside their homes.

“There have been questions about mandating instead of making a strong recommendation,” Blessinger said.

Officials plan to come together again in the next few days to decide if there should be a mandate. At Monday’s commissioners meeting, the idea was discussed.

Health officials support a mandate, said Shawn Werner, administrative director at the Dubois County Health Department. “This is what we can do to slow the spread,” he said.

He said the positivity rate in the county is the highest in this health district. And the uptick is being seen in the number of positive cases among the younger populations, he said.

Studies done at Indiana University show that 43% of the population that gets the virus are asymptomatic, which means they don’t show any signs of having the virus, Werner said.

“At this point, we need to try to do the mandate,” said County Emergency Management Director Tammy Humbert. “Maybe this will make people realize how serious this is.”

The health department is being bombarded with calls from people and businesses asking questions about the virus, including questions about being in close contact with someone who has the virus, Werner said.

Jasper Mayor Dean Vonderheide and Huntingburg Mayor Denny Spinner said they would support a mandate if there is a component of enforcement included.

“The challenge of mandate is enforcement,” Vonderheide said. “We have groups of businesses that want to step up and control this in their businesses. It’s when you’re out in public, communitywide, that’s the problem.”

He added that he is in favor of a mandate, “but we have to know where the enforcement comes from,” he said.

Spinner said that rolling back to an earlier phase of a shutdown would be detrimental to businesses. “A rollback should be the last option,” he said. “It’s hard to recover from that economically.”

He said a mandate of masks in businesses would help, with the businesses doing the enforcement. “Businesses [in Huntingburg] are asking us to do this, and they will enforce that,” he said.

Jasper resident Bill Nonte, who is manager of Southgate Shopping Center, was also at Monday’s meeting. He told the commissioners that there is no conclusive evidence showing that masks stop the spread of the virus.

“This is a serious virus, however, the death rate for COVID is low,” he said. “People are being led to believe if you got COVID, you’re on your way out.”

Nonte said that if a mandate is being considered by the county and municipalities, and that there is supporting data, citizens should be given a chance to weigh into the decision.

“Citizens will be the best ones to determine what’s best for their health,” Nonte said.

Commissioner Elmer Brames said would favor a mandate, because he does not want to move backward and have businesses shutting down, which would hurt the economy, and schools closing. “But I’d only favor it if we all do the same thing,” he said, referring to cities and towns.

The mandate should include all facilities: retail, commercial, distribution, health care and manufacturing, Brames said, as well as places like schools, government facilities, churches and planned gatherings by organizations.

“They have a responsibility as well in this whole effort,” he said.

Commissioner Nick Hostetter said he was on the fence about the matter because there is no conclusive evidence that masks stop the spread.

“I wear a mask. If it works and helps, great. If it doesn’t work, I’m not any worse. But making people doing it,” he said, “I’m not 100% convinced will work And with backlash from [the] public, I’m not sure if it’s worth it.”

Officials plan to meet in a few days to determine if a mandate is needed. Blessinger said a special meeting will be called to approve a mandate, if that is the decision.

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