The Hoosier State will not immediately be joining Texas and Mississippi in scrapping the governor’s directive for individuals to wear a face mask inside businesses and other public places to minimize the potential spread of COVID-19.
Gov. Eric Holcomb recently told reporters he’s been keeping abreast of decisions by some of his fellow Republican governors to get rid of their mask mandates, but he’s not yet convinced doing so is the right policy for Indiana.
“I’m very Indiana-centric about this, and I’m really happy about the path that we’re on to get to that light at the end of the tunnel,” Holcomb said.
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Holcomb was among the last Midwestern governors to issue a face mask directive. It initially took effect July 27, 2020, long after most national retail chains operating in Indiana already required masks be worn to enter their businesses. Lake County separately enacted a mask mandate July 20.
In comparison, face masks were required in Illinois starting on May 1, 2020. Indeed, all of Indiana’s neighboring states had a mask mandate before Holcomb issued his executive order telling Hoosiers to wear them as well.
The current Indiana face covering requirement is due to expire March 31. However, Holcomb is empowered to renew the mask directive as he has repeatedly since last summer.
He said last week any decision on lifting Indiana’s mask requirement largely will hinge on the continued reduction of COVID-19 cases in the state, along with the share of Hoosiers getting vaccinated against the coronavirus.
“We’re going to continue to balance the lives and livelihoods sides of the ledger,” Holcomb said. “We have been through a lot together and we’re going to get out of this together, and we’re pointed in that direction.”
Data tallied by the Indiana Department of Health show more than 700,000 Hoosiers are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, with 1.13 million Hoosiers having received at least the first of two doses required in some cases for full protection. There are about 5.2 million adults in the state.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidance Monday authorizing Americans fully immunized against COVID-19 to gather indoors without masks or social distancing if everyone in the room is vaccinated or considered low-risk for the virus, such as healthy children.
However, the CDC still recommends fully vaccinated people in public places wear face masks, follow social distancing guidelines and avoid large gatherings.
Holcomb observed that Indiana is ahead of many other states now getting attention for “opening up” their economies, since Indiana businesses have had no statewide capacity caps since November provided they follow the state’s social distancing and face mask directives.
“When you actually read the fine print, many states that are ‘opening up’ are opening up not even to the level we’re at right now,” Holcomb said.
At the same time, State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box declined to speculate as to when things will fully return to “normal” and the pandemic declared over.
“That's a really, really difficult question,” Box said. “It’s going to take time. It’s going to take time to get everybody vaccinated, and we’re not going to be able to call this pandemic over with mutations and the other things that are happening with this virus until we’ve really protected more of our population and really decreased our cases, and kept those cases down.”
She said Hoosiers getting the vaccine right now may even need a booster shot in the fall to provide continuing protection against hospitalization or death from new strains of COVID-19 developing elsewhere in the world.
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