Residents' opinions differ on mask order


JASPER — Karina Medina stands inside the Walmart entrance, counting the number of customers and handing out free disposable masks to anyone who wants one.

Thursday was Medina’s second day working as a greeter. Already, she’s noticed there’s a variety of willingness to wear masks in the store. Some enter without masks and walk right past her, although most do wear them. Others look over at her stack of masks and are grateful she’s there to provide them.

On Thursday afternoon, she handed out masks to three different people within about five minutes.

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb announced in a speech Tuesday that the statewide mask order would be lifted come April 6. This means local governments will soon have to decide for themselves whether to continue, modify or lift the requirement.

As an essential worker who will be interacting with many people on a daily basis, Medina is worried about the idea of being in public for hours at a time without a mask requirement.

“Someone could walk in and you won’t be able to know if they’re sick,” she said. “So you could get sick, too.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has endorsed the use of masks and social distancing to curb the spread of COVID-19. But with more than 46 million Americans — about 14% of the total U.S. population — already vaccinated, cases across the country have begun to drop, leaving some feeling safer about loosening restrictions.

As of Wednesday, 33 state governments require masks or face coverings in public, according to the American Association of Retired Persons. Six states that previously had mask mandates have since lifted them.

Earlier this month, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order lifting the mask mandate and increasing capacity of all businesses and public facilities back to 100%. The decision has received plenty of support and opposition from Texans, including local business owners. Some have chosen to require masks inside their businesses, anyway, regardless of what the state says.

Nick Hostetter, owner of Hosty’s and Azura Grill & Cafe in Jasper, said he will likely make masks optional in his restaurants if the county doesn’t require them. However, the decision will ultimately be based on how the customers feel, he said.

“If we make it optional … and all my employees decide they’re not wearing one and that affects my business and it’s slow because my customers push back and say, ‘I don’t feel comfortable,’ then I would probably go back to requiring it,” he said. “In the end, I just want everybody to feel safe.”

Hostetter said he’s heard some excitement from customers about the possibility of dining without masks but that he is willing to accommodate those who feel less safe by seating them farther away from other customers, if that’s something they want.

“Some people who are adamant mask wearers are going to wear it and they’re still not going to feel safe, even if they are safe, and there is going to be some people who rip them off and burn them,” he said. “I don’t see any problem wearing the mask. I do think it did help prevent the spread, but I do think we’re at the back end of this thing at this point.”

Some Dubois County residents, such as Vicki Meyer of Ferdinand, said she will continue to wear a mask in public even if they are no longer required.

Meyer browsed the library aisles at the Thyen-Clark Cultural Center Thursday with her grandson after visiting the Youth Art Month displays in which her grandson’s art was featured in. They both wore masks and kept their distance from others.

As much as Meyer would like to stop wearing masks, she said, she will probably carry one around in public for years to come. She said she’s already seen several people in enclosed public spaces without masks or wearing them incorrectly, which worries her.

“I would like it to be over, but it’s not,” she said.

However, she is excited to not have to worry about masks when visiting with friends in the future, she said.

Meyer recently received her second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. At first, she was hesitant to get it because there are still unknowns about how it may affect people in years to come, she said. Ultimately, her daughters convinced her to get it.

“It gives me at least some hope of normalcy,” she said. “It’s the only hope I know of.”

More on