Originally published July 22 on TheStatehouseFile.com
Gov. Eric Holcomb has issued a statewide mask mandate that will go into effect Monday saying it’s a necessary move because of the steady rise in the number of COVID-19 cases across Indiana.
Holcomb struck a somber tone Wednesday at his weekly virtual press briefing as he stood behind the podium announcing his executive order. While he normally sits behind the table, this time he addressed Hoosiers with a sense of urgency that this statewide mask mandate is needed to protect them from the spreading virus.
The Republican governor has resisted issuing a statewide order until now. For the past few weeks, he has praised counties and cities in the state who have mandated the use of face coverings.
The executive order comes after a wave of retail businesses including Walmart and Target, along with high-population cities and counties such as West Lafayette and Monroe County, started requiring the use of masks this week. Marion County and Indianapolis have required face masks for several weeks.
Holcomb is one of few Republican governors around the country to issue an executive mask mandate. For instance, fellow Republican Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia banned all cities and counties in the state from mandating face coverings despite the state’s rising number of COVID-19 cases. He sued the city of Atlanta to stop officials from enforcing a mandate.
“This is the next prudent step that we, as a state, need to take,” Holcomb said. “I hope this message is being not just heard, but it’s being consumed.”
Holcomb said that he is issuing the order now because of the increase in the number COVID-19 cases and in the rate of positive cases. The mask order will help stem the rise in cases so schools can reopen safely and local businesses can stay open and operating.
Dr. Woody Myers, Democratic candidate for governor, released a statement shortly after Wednesday’s press briefing saying that Holcomb should have issued the mandate sooner.
“Gov. Eric Holcomb stalled for months, caving to the anti-science conservatives—taking action only when every single state surrounding us implemented a mask order,” Myers said.
The number of COVID-19 cases has been rising since the beginning of the month. On Wednesday, Dr. Lindsay Weaver, chief medical officer of the state health department, reported 763 new cases, bringing the state total to 58,673. There were 14 more Hoosier deaths, totaling 2,666 and not including the 197 symptomatic Hoosiers who were not tested for the virus before they died.
“Over the last seven days, 5,345 Hoosiers have tested positive for COVID-19,” Weaver said. “For the same period in June, we saw just under 2,900 cases.”
Dr. Jennifer Sullivan, secretary of Family and Social Services Administration, said that death is not the only outcome health experts are concerned about with COVID-19 because there are other long-term complications that are evolving as the fight against the virus continues.
“Not just what we call mortality, but morbidity,” Sullivan said. “Mortality is just the tip of the iceberg of a disease process. The death rate, obviously, is the part that got our attention, but the underlying cohort of individuals that have had the disease take a long time to recover may have long-lasting effects.”
Sullivan also debunked a couple myths that have spread about the “dangers” of wearing masks. She said that masks have holes in them, which does not restrict oxygen or retain carbon dioxide like some people have claimed.
She added that they are trying to get good, truthful information out to Hoosiers, so they aren’t scared.
“There are lots of reasons to be scared right now,” Sullivan said. “Masks are not one of them.”
While many school districts have already released their reopening plans, some enforcing mask usage from students in all grade levels, Holcomb’s executive order will require every student in third grade and above to wear masks, even if the school’s plan did not already mandate masks.
“Our kids should not be getting mixed messages throughout the day,” Holcomb said. “When they leave school grounds, they need to see that everyone is doing what they’re doing. The best practices are best for all.”
As of now, there is no set date for the end of the executive order. Holcomb said that when the numbers start trending in the right way, then state leadership can start to adjust the state’s actions.
Hope Shrum is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.