Gov. Eric Holcomb announced in a press conference Wednesday that a statewide mask-wearing mandate will begin Monday.
The mandate will require everyone 8 and older to wear a mask in indoor public spaces, which include businesses and transportation services, and outside in public spaces when social distancing is not possible. There will be exceptions for eating and drinking, participating in strenuous exercise and medical purposes. Masks will be highly recommended for children between 2- and 7-years-old.
“I’ve taken note of my gubernatorial cohorts around the country who said, ‘I wish I would have done this three weeks ago,’ and so I don’t want to be three weeks from now where they are right now,” Holcomb said in the press conference. “This is just yet another piece of the puzzle to put in place to do all that we can, all of us.”
Although the death rate in Indiana is still going down, the number of new positive cases per day is going up. There were 763 new positive cases in the state today compared to 273 cases on June 23, which has been attributed to more young people getting the virus. Lyndsay Weaver, chief medical officer at the Indiana State Health Department, said even though their risk of dying is very low, young people can still get very sick from the virus and transmit it to older adults with a higher risk of dying.
Holcomb said not wearing a mask will be a misdemeanor, but police will not be enforcing this yet. He said he hopes they will not have to. The mandate will begin Monday to allow for communities to prepare.
In schools, faculty, staff, volunteers and students in grades 3-12 will be required to wear masks during the school day and in extra- and co-curricular activities. Instructors who can maintain at least six feet between themselves and their students do not have to wear a mask. All students should wear masks on school buses.
Jennifer Sullivan, pediatrician and secretary of the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration, said desks should be spaced out as far as possible in schools, and young students should be put into “pods” that will move about the school to limit spread to immediate pod members if one student becomes infected. She said although literature suggests children spread the virus more easily as they get older, she recommends all children older than 2 wear a mask. The state now has recommendations for schools on how to handle a positive casewhich include identifying students who have been in close physical proximity to the positive student and having them self-isolate.
Weaver and Sullivan emphasized the simple but effective practices that have been preached from the beginning of the pandemic to decrease the spread of the virus: washing hands, staying home if you feel sick, social distancing, limiting large gatherings and wearing masks.
“I’m going to start with my mom voice,” she said. “What we do now to decrease the community prevalence of COVID is what gets as many of our kids back to school as possible.”
Both doctors mentioned the myth around masks decreasing oxygen intake and increasing toxin and carbon dioxide intake. They said doctors often wear masks for 8-12 hours and do not experience any of these issues. Weaver said some studies say masks can reduce the risk of transmitting the virus by up to 80%.
“Physicians and other clinicians have worn masks for a long time to protect themselves and their patients,” Weaver said. “This is standard practice to help prevent the spread of disease."
Holcomb said he recently saw pictures in the IndyStar of many Hoosiers not wearing masks and was alarmed.
"I've seen this movie before," he said. "I've seen it around the country. I've seen how it ends. We're trying to change that ending."