Indiana’s statewide mask mandate will end Tuesday (along with those of several other states) but that doesn’t mean Hoosiers won’t have to wear masks in day-to-day life beyond April 6.
Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb put the burden on local health officials on whether to continue requiring masks at the county level or follow the state.
Alicia Thompson from the Washington County Health Department said they will continue to recommend residents wearing masks.
“We still strongly recommend mask-wearing. At this time we don’t have any additional changes,” she told WSLM today. “We will continue to observe and study what seems to be the cause, ways to mitigate transmission, and if we will need to make additional changes in the future.”
Holcomb announced during a recent speech that he will renew the state’s health emergency through the end of April, and current restrictions through April 5.
Starting April 6, all decisions about the capacity of events will be up to local officials.
Face coverings will remain mandatory in all state buildings and facilities and in all vaccination and COVID testing sites until further notice.
K-12 schools will continue requiring masks under current requirements through the remainder of the 2020-21 school year.
Local governments, private businesses, and other entities may institute more stringent guidelines. Major retailers in Indiana, like Walmart, have already indicated they will continue to require face coverings even once the state mandate expires.
The Indiana Department of Health will continue to provide county-level, color-coded metrics to provide information about whether virus levels are increasing or decreasing locally.
“Businesses are open to freely make any more requirements than what is already in place,” said Thompson. “The governor is making it a strong suggestion to people instead of a mandate. Businesses can make a stronger policy. We’ve had a few called in today and they said they were going to stick with masks — and that’s wonderful. At this time we’re watching to see how things go. The weather is nicer and people are traveling. We’re going to see how things are going.”
Thompson did say that masks will continue to be required for those coming to the Washington County Health Department for vaccinations. She said masks had to be worn the entire time – and properly worn.
Washington County’s Covid numbers have been on the rise (as well as those around Indiana and the rest of the US).
The positivity rate for Washington County hit a low of 2.2 percent on March 15.
As of Saturday’s latest numbers, Washington County was up to a 9.9 percent positivity rate.
“Unfortunately I do foresee it’s going to get worse,” said Thompson. “We have been notified by the state that we now have several variants in Indiana and they have determined that these variants are highly more susceptible and more severe.”
She said there are several factors at play with increased cases of Covid-19, between residents growing lax and recent Spring Break trips.
Washington County is now allowing those aged 18 and older to get the vaccine.
Thompson said they are offering the Maderna vaccine, which is only approved for those 18 and older.
She said if there are those 16 and 17-year-olds who want the vaccine, they would have to get the Pfizer vaccine.
Those wishing to sign up for the vaccinations should go to www.ourshot.in.gov
Thompson said the local health department is able to vaccinate almost 700 people per week.
She said the further good news was research showing that vaccines have now been shown to be effective for up to six months.
“Researchers are continuing to monitor to see if it will last longer,” said said. “They’re still just testing and will continue to test them to see how long they keep their antibodies. Hopefully, it will be like other vaccines. Hopefully, we don’t have to have a booster.”
Holcomb announced on March 23 that the state’s mask mandate will expire April 6, though masks will still be recommended.
Face coverings will remain mandatory in all state buildings and local governments, and those groups can continue to impose their own mask mandates.
But even outside of those places and in counties or cities without a mask mandate, Hoosiers will continue to encounter requirements at private businesses, something experts say is protected by law.
But according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, even fully vaccinated people should continue to wear masks in public when gathering with unvaccinated people from more than one household and while visiting an unvaccinated person at high risk of severe illness or death.
Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett announced March 25 that Marion County’s mask mandate will remain in place beyond April 6