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EDITORIAL: Mask order compels us to take pandemic seriously

EDITORIAL: Mask order compels us to take pandemic seriously

The governor's mask order

Gov. Eric Holcomb announced signed an executive order Friday directing Hoosiers to wear face masks in public places where it's not possible to maintain six feet of social distancing.

The Republican chief executive said the face mask requirement takes effect Monday in all 92 Indiana counties and every community across the state. Click here for more information.

At a time when our Region and nation are starved for a clear track for navigating a global pandemic, and the leadership to propel us along that track, Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb took the pole position this past week.

Now Hoosiers should follow the governor's commonsense mask mandate to speed away from a resurgent wave of COVID-19 infections.

Holcomb's statewide mandate, requiring that masks be worn in public places in which social distancing opportunities are challenged, is the type of clarity we needed in a time when COVID-19 infections are growing at home and abroad.

One of the top pieces of medical advice amid this global pandemic is for people to wear masks or other face coverings to reduce the spread of a virus that is infecting and killing far too many in Northwest Indiana, the greater state and in regions throughout the United States.

Our nation's top doctors are saying it. Lake County's top doctor, county Health Department Director Chandana Vavilala, has said it.

And now our governor has said it.

That clarity was needed, as we witnessed this week in the social response to wording in a Lake County mask order that came ahead of the governor's edict.

Dr. Vavilala showed strong local leadership by issuing Lake County's mask order. Her order followed solid leadership by various Region municipalities, including Hammond, to require masks be worn in publicly owned facilities.

County attorney, Matthew Fech, said the health department director intended the order as a local mandate.

However, an attempt at soft wording in the order created confusion among some citizens, business owners and public officials alike.

Some viewed the Lake County order as a "recommendation," even though it was clearly a public health order and contained language that businesses "must ensure" patrons comply with the order.

Some of the ambiguity came with using words like "should" rather than "shall" when it came to citizens wearing masks in public.

In the end, that was a silly quibble, as the word "should" is merely the past tense of the word "shall" in the English language.

That confusion in Lake County is a lesson in prizing clear direction over political nuance.

Nonetheless, Holcomb made a strong move to clarify the matter for everyone by issuing a statewide order this past week.

It's true a scandal-ridden Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill challenged Holcomb's ability, through executive order, to add criminal teeth to his mask mandate.

Though the governor had sought misdemeanor penalties for violators of the order in an early draft, the final order signed Friday took those penalties out.

Convincing people to do the right thing for the health of our families, neighbors and ourselves shouldn't take an executive order from the governor's office or the threat of criminal penalties.

But too many people have been flippant about the real threats presented by COVID-19.

While some citizens moving about public places have responsibly heeded the best medical advice and worn masks, others have ignored the commonsense practice, believing their personal liberty trumps overall public health.

We applaud the governor for standing up for the health of Hoosiers by pushing us all to take this pandemic seriously.

If you're going to be out in public among people, put on a mask. It's not hard to do. Any discomfort is a small price to pay for overall public health.

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Members of The Times Editorial Board are Publisher Christopher T. White, Editor Marc Chase, Deputy Editor Kerry Erickson, Regional News Editor Sharon Ross, Assistant Deputy Editor Andrew Steele.

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