Statewide mask mandate to start Monday

Photos by Marlena Sloss/The Herald
Hair stylist Katrina Bridgewater does the hair of Doug Moorman of Ferdinand at Southern Roots Salon in Jasper on Wednesday. Bridgewater said that because the numbers of cases are increasing, she sees a mask mandate as a favorable alternative to shutting down salons.

By CANDY NEAL
cneal@dcherald.com

Indiana will be under a mask mandate come Monday.

Gov. Eric Holcomb announced Wednesday that he will sign an executive order today for the mandate.

“The simple act of covering our faces, as odd as it may feel, can help us prevent the transmission of the virus,” he said, “which, again, is why this is the next prudent step that we, as a state, need to take.”

Several factors contributed to the mandate decision, the governor explained, including the rise in positive COVID-19 cases across the state and in surrounding states, the increase in hospitalizations, and the fact that cases are increasing in counties that have traditionally had low numbers.

“Some counties in the past that have never even been a blip on the radar screen for positive tests, are, in some cases, reporting regular double-digit COVID-19 positive cases now,” he said. “Counties like Clark and Dubois and Kosciusko, Porter, Posey.”

The executive order will require face coverings for anyone age 8 and older who are in public indoor spaces and commercial entities, using public transportation or other vehicle services like taxis or ride shares, or in outdoor public spaces when it’s not possible to socially distance from people not in the same household. The order will have exceptions for medical purposes, disabilities, exercising, and eating and drinking.

Howard Scott of Jasper gets his hair cut by Southern Roots Salon Owner Jenna Faulkenberg at the salon in Jasper on Wednesday. Scott believes a mask mandate is necessary, especially in light of the recent increases in COVID-19 cases in Dubois County. "One more year until retirement, I'd like to make it to retirement," Scott said.

A press release about the order explained that a mask or other face covering may be factory-made, sewn by hand or improvised from household items such as scarfs, bandanas and T-shirts. The mouth and nose should be covered.

Holcomb said it is important to do this now because the school year is due to start soon, and various school districts are looking at how to reopen safely. With that, the governor’s order stipulates that masks be worn in school settings. Students in third grade and above will be required to wear masks at school, as well as faculty, staff, volunteers and others who may be in a school or for co-curricular or extracurricular activities, with exceptions for strenuous physical activities.

“Our kids should not be getting mixed messages throughout the day when they leave school grounds. They need to see that everyone is doing what they’re doing,” Holcomb said. “The best practices are best for all, by slowing or stopping many times the unknowing transmission of COVID-19.”

As far as enforcement, Holcomb said there will not be officers out policing the public on wearing a mask. “So while not wearing a mask when and where I just stated before is a Class B misdemeanor, please know the mask police will not be patrolling Hoosier streets,” he said.

“Our approach since Day One, since the very beginning of this pandemic, has been an approach of education and appealing to one’s civic duty and public good,” the governor added. “You might even say public pride and being part of the solution. And it will continue to be.”

Holcomb is hoping, instead, that all Hoosiers will comply.

“We don’t want it to get to the point where misdemeanors come into play. They have around other states, but we don’t think we’re there yet,” he said. “We are going to continue along with our partnerships locally to try to appeal to Hoosiers to do the right thing. We have sought this through education.”

The Indiana Department of Homeland Security is working with local law enforcement agencies, he said.

“We have our state police working to try to encourage and appeal for folks to do the right thing,” Holcomb said. “We’re hoping that as the cases increase, we can dial back that kind of cavalier behavior instead of dialing back going back to work.”

Since Holcomb’s announcement regarding the mandate, five Indiana senators — including Sen. Mark Messmer, R-Jasper — questioned whether the governor can issue a statewide mask mandate pursuant to his authority under the Emergency Management and Disaster Law, and whether such a mandate could be enforced by criminal penalty.

The senators requested an opinion from Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill, who said the General Assembly never granted the governor the authority to issue a mask mandate, and that his “broad authority to create a law would be unconstitutional.” The opinion also states that a mask order is not enforceable as a Class B misdemeanor because “the threat of criminal penalty goes beyond the power delegated to the governor” by the state’s EMDL.

Read Hill's opinion here

“This opinion is not an argument for or against masks, but it is about process,” the AG’s opinion states. “These decisions on matters that have the effect of law and bind all of us continue to be made in private and handed down by decree. For Hoosiers, whose lives and livelihoods are on the line, to have a voice in how we continue to deal with the virus, it is critical that the General Assembly assume its constitutional role. Pursuant to the Indiana Constitution, and the laws of our great state, if a mask mandate is to be a law, it is up to the General Assembly to make that determination.”

Local officials are supporting the state’s mask mandate. Both mayors have released statements of support.

“As the number of positive tests in our state — and more urgently to me, in our county — continue to rise, I support the governor in taking this step,” Huntingburg Mayor Denny Spinner said in his statement, “and am urging residents of Huntingburg, Dubois County and Indiana to comply with the governor’s order to ‘hunker down’ and allow our schools to reopen and our businesses to continue to rebound from the effects of the pandemic.”

Jasper Mayor Dean Vonderheide voiced similar sentiments. “By following the governor’s executive order we can minimize risks in the future,” he said in his statement. “Citizens of Jasper and Dubois County must be part of the solution as we wish to avoid another stay-at-home order or the ultimate consequence, loss of loved ones.”

Both mayors’ full statements can be found online on each city’s official Facebook page.

In his opening remarks Wednesday, Holcomb mentioned Dubois County as being one of the counties that has seen increases in the number of positive COVID-19 cases. State officials have been in contact with local officials about it, the governor said.

“We are in contact with your county and will continue to be here,” he said. “It just so happens that I was in communication with one of your elected officials last night three or four times after 10 p.m. We are very connected on the ground, through our various agencies and by way of myself directly.”

Because of the increase in the number of positive COVID-19 cases, local officials have been meeting to discuss the possibility of a mask mandate for Dubois County. The state mandate will factor into that discussion, Dubois County Health Department Administrator Shawn Werner indicated.

“The Dubois County Health Department has been and will continue to support the governor’s orders,” he said Wednesday evening in an email. “Once we have a chance to read the order [Thursday], we will decide as a group what to do with the local mask mandate [that is] being discussed.”

Holcomb appealed to the public to comply with the upcoming mask mandate.

“When I asked you months ago to hunker down, you did. We did. And we slowed the spread; it’s just factual,” the governor said. “Now we have to hunker down in a different way. Which is why wearing masks will become the fashion of the day.”




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