Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb announced he would sign an executive order mandating all Hoosiers 8 years and older wear masks starting July 27 when inside indoor public spaces, commercial entities and transportation services or when they can’t social distance in outdoor public spaces.
State officials strongly recommended masks be worn by children 2 to 7 years old. A mask or other face covering may be factory-made, sewn by hand, or improvised from household items such as scarfs, bandanas and t-shirts. The mouth and nose should be covered.
Mask use will be required in all schools for grades 3 and up – typically the grade level when children turn 8 years old. Mask use will also be required of faculty, staff and anyone else in schools. They are also required for co-curricular and all extra-curricular activities except for those involving strenuous physical activity. Health officials assured that masks do not increase a wearer’s exposure to carbon dioxide or imped their ability to breathe in oxygen.
Holcomb said necessary exceptions would be made for medical purposes, strenuous physical activity and for eating and drinking.
As of press time, the executive order was scheduled to be signed July 23. Holcomb did not mention at length how the state planned to enforce the mandate, but he assured, “The mask police won’t be patrolling Indiana streets.” However, those not wearing a mask could be charged with a Class B misdemeanor, Holcomb said.
In addition to rising COVID-19 rates in the state, Holcomb said getting children back to school and keeping Indiana businesses open were determining factors in his decision to implement the mask mandate.
“We want businesses to stay open,” Holcomb said during a July 22 press briefing. “We want more Hoosiers to continue this trend of going back safely to work. We don’t want to dial it back or put it in reverse or, as some are, shutting down again. Face coverings can and will help us blunt this increase.
“We’re asking our kids and their teachers to mask up, and our kids should not be getting mixed messages throughout the day. When they leave school grounds, they need to see that everyone is doing what they’re doing, that best practices are best for all.”
Indiana’s seven-day average positivity rate increased to seven percent, as of July 14. The state’s positivity rate was 6.3 percent as of July 4 and 4.3 percent as of June 18, indicating the new coronavirus is spreading in Indiana communities. The state’s positivity rate on May 3 was 14.5 percent. Indiana State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box has said she monitors the statistic closely because it can be a better predictor of community spread than the state’s number of positive cases, which are expected to increase as the state’s testing capabilities also increase.
The number of Hoosiers hospitalized with COVID-19 has also increased in recent weeks. As of July 20, 804 Hoosiers were hospitalized with COVID-19, up from the 595 that were hospitalized as up June 26. Previously, 1,579 Indiana residents were hospitalized with the disease on May 4.
Other surrounding states have seen their positivity rates increase in recent weeks and have also issued mask mandates. Minnesota issued a mask mandate earlier in the day on July 22. Michigan, Illinois, Kentucky and more than half of all states have issued statewide mask mandates. The moves come after states such as Florida, Texas and California have reported their largest surges of COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic in mid-March.
State officials offered additional, more specific guidance to school systems for when they reopen their schools in coming weeks.
Holcomb during a July 22 press briefing said he would leave the decision whether to open schools to local officials. Later that evening, President Donald Trump said he would refrain from issuing any federal directives pertaining to schools, saying he would leave the decision whether to open schools to governors.
“There is no more important task before us than returning students safely to school for instruction,” Holcomb said.
To mitigate the spread of the virus, state officials recommend schools space desks as far as apart as possible, facing the same direction. State officials said it would be ideal to sequester students into groups to minimize any potential spread of the virus. Part of doing so would involve planning schedules so that a minimum number of students are close contacts.
State officials also gave guidance for how to respond to positive COIVD-19 cases in schools. In a classroom, anyone who spent more than 15 minutes within six feet of the person for the 48 hours prior to symptoms or a positive test for an asymptomatic person, should be considered close contacts. These close contacts will be asked to quarantine at home for a minimum of 14 days. They will be monitored and guided by their local health department and the state’s centralized contact tracing center. If sequestering students into groups is not possible, state officials said it might be necessary for entire classrooms to quarantine.
Indiana State Health Dept. Chief Medical Officer Dr. Linda Weaver no threshold has been set for if an entire schools due to a COVID-19 outbreak.
“If a school has multiple positive cases, officials should work with the state and local health department on what next steps to take,” Weaver said.
Coronavirus study results published
The results of a statewide study that aims to measure the spread of COVID-19 indicated a general population prevalence of about 2.8 percent in Indiana.
The study was conducted by the Indiana University Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health at IUPUI in collaboration with the Indiana State Dept. of Health. The findings were published July 21 in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s scientific publication.
In June, the researchers determined 1.7 percent of participants tested positive for the new coronavirus and an additional 1.1 percent tested positive for antibodies, resulting in an estimated overall population prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 of 2.8 percent. An estimated 187,802 Hoosiers were infected with COVID-19 at the time of the study, approximately 10 times higher than the confirmed cases in the state.