Officials no longer considering local mask mandate


Now that a state mask mandate is in place, a local mandate is no longer being considered.

“We are endorsing [Gov. Eric Holcomb’s] mandate at the current moment,” said Shawn Werner, administrative director of the Dubois County Health Department. “Since the governor issued the statewide mandate, that has taken the place of a local one.”

Discussions about a local mandate started after the numbers of positive COVID-19 cases increased in the county. A group of local leaders met Tuesday and Wednesday of last week to discuss the possibility. The group included county officials, leaders from the municipalities and health officials. Those meetings were a continuation of meetings from the previous week, when the group made a public proclamation urging people to wear face masks.

After the proclamation was made on July 17, members of the group had gotten some feedback from local businesses over that weekend, and there was a push for a mandate, Dubois County Commissioner Chad Blessinger said.

Last week, the group decided to wait to see what Holcomb would say in his weekly press conference, and he ended up announcing a statewide mask mandate, which went into effect this week.

“Once he made the announcement and made [a mandate] statewide, we felt there wasn’t much else we needed to do locally,” Blessinger said. “I guess we can make it more restrictive than the state, but I don’t think anybody has that in mind at this time.”

The current state mandate runs though Aug. 26. But the mandate could be lengthened.

“If for some reason he rescinds it in 30 days and we still feel like we need it locally,” Werner said, “then we would have to cross that bridge when we get there.”

The Huntingburg Common Council expressed its support of the state mandate at its meeting Tuesday evening, and encouraged residents to follow it. Councilman Jeff Bounds read a prepared statement on behalf of the council.

“I’d like to request that we all make a united effort to do everything that we can to slow the spread, flatten the curve and protect the public ourselves, our coworkers and our loved ones,” he said, “by abiding by the recommendations of our trusted health care officials and local leaders.”

He encouraged people to also wash their hands regularly, use hand sanitizer, keep their areas disinfected and stay home if they don’t feel well. He also encouraged those who are in the at-risk category due to a health concern to stay home as much as possible.

He also asked people to be respectful of each other, especially during this time of mounting stress.

“Just as we know you are watching us, remember that others are watching you,” Bounds said, “your kids, your coworkers, your spouse, your parents, your neighbors. If everyone just makes the effort to do a little more for a little longer, we may be able to make a difficult and stressful time just a little better for everybody.”

Blessinger said he has noticed an increase in the number of people wearing masks in the public since the mandate was put in place.

“I don’t see 100% compliance, but I see a lot more compliance already,” he said. “I see my coworkers wearing them. I see more of the public wearing them.”

He added that he got a lot of feedback from the public after the Dubois County Commissioners talked about the matter on Monday, July 20. On that afternoon, One Dubois County posted the mayors’ phone numbers and the commissioners’ phone numbers, encouraging people to call and voice their opinion, he said.

“I got 90 different phone calls, text messages and voicemails,” Blessinger said. “And the vast majority of those were in favor of it, saying that we have to do this for everybody’s health.”

The next day, he got more calls, texts and voicemails. But these were from people in opposition to the mandate.

“I don’t know if the people on the other side [of the issue] sent an email out each other. But that day, I probably had 75 calls, voicemails, text messages, emails saying don’t do it; you’re stealing our liberty if you put it in place. It was an amazing turnaround in one night.”

Blessinger said this is the most feedback he has ever gotten on an issue as a commissioner.

“If you added all the feedback I’ve ever gotten for every other issue,” he said, “I got more of it on Monday and Tuesday for this mask mandate. It was an amazing thing.” He even heard from a constituent after the mandate was announced. The person wanted to tell him that he still doesn’t want the county to enact a local mandate.

Blessinger was glad to get the feedback from the public.

“I really wish people would give us feedback all the time,” Blessinger said. “It was a neat experience.”

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