MERRILLVILLE — Taking a nod from local retailers, town officials are asking masks be worn in public establishments.
In a Sunday afternoon Facebook post, the Town of Merrillville said beginning at 11 a.m. Monday, face masks will be required while in public buildings "of any type" until further notice.
"We hope that we can all make an extra effort to wear masks so we can get a handle on the spread of this virus," the post reads.
The mandate comes after local retailers, including Jewel-Osco, Walmart, Strack & Van Til and Meijer, are set to require customers to wear masks while shopping beginning this week.
Town Council President Rick Bella said council members have discussed requiring masks for about a month. He noted recent COVID-19 statistics in Lake County have been unfavorable, as numbers continue to rise.
"We just thought it was time for us to do our part," Bella said. "It just is funny because just at the end of last week, we did see major retailers all doing announcements, even Strack & Van Til. ...
"Basically, if you're going to go out and about into town anyway, you're going to really need a mask to go into those establishments. So it kind of ties in with us now just kind of extending that saying, 'You know what, let's just do it in all establishments and all buildings, so people remain safe.'"
As of Sunday, the Indiana State Department of Health reported 6,145 cases of COVID-19 in Lake County, with 254 deaths.
Bella said officials discuss the pandemic daily, with the mask mandate coming to fruition over the last week.
Once all council members weighed in and approved the requirement in an executive order, Bella said it was put into effect as soon as possible, while giving people time to acquire masks if they need them.
"There's a lot of different opinions about it, but our thoughts were, 'Hey, if it could prevent someone from getting sick, it's just well worth it," Bella said.
According to Executive Order No. 4, anyone in an indoor place, other than their own home, as well as in an outdoor setting where maintaining 6 feet between others isn't possible, must wear a mask or face covering over their nose and mouth.
The order is in effect through Aug. 31.
"We'll give further notice, of course, on Aug. 30. It (the mask requirement) really is until further notice," Bella said. "We'll give notice when it's no longer needed, or if it needs to be extended."
The mandate doesn't apply to:
- Children under 2 years old
- Those who have hearing or speaking impairments
- Anyone who is unable to wear for a physical, medial or health-related reasons
- Those in a healthcare facility in situations where wearing a face covering could impede receiving proper care.
- Homeless individuals
- Anyone who is alone in a public building
- Motorists driving their own vehicle
- Anyone in jail
- Those who would face a safety risk while wearing a face covering at work, as determined by local, state or federal workplace safety regulations
- Anyone engaging in indoor exercise that isn't compatible with wearing a mask, such as swimming
- Anyone at a restaurant or bar that serves food or drink while they are eating and drinking. However, when entering or exiting such establishments, or congregating in waiting or common areas, masks must be worn
- Those engaged in outdoor exercise, including running, jogging, walking, cycling or swimming, in groups of less than 25
- Anyone in a "bona fide" emergency situation
- Those who are outdoors and maintaining 6 feet of distance from those who they don't live with.
According to the order, businesses and accommodations that are open to the public must ensure patrons/visitors comply with the mask requirement. Any business or accommodation that fails to follow the mandate will be subject to enforcement action, the order states.
Bella said the town attorney is still working on defining enforcement action.
The order also encourages individuals to continue to maintain social distancing guidelines; wash hands frequently; cover all coughs and sneezes; disinfect surfaces; avoid sharing food, beverages and utensils; clean communal office equipment; increase ventilation or indoor spaces; and avoid shaking hands or engaging in other physical contact with the hands or face of another individual.