INDIANAPOLIS - Indiana will have a statewide face mask mandate starting today, joining many other states in similar orders aimed at slowing the coronavirus spread, Gov. Eric Holcomb said last week.
The Indiana order will take effect Monday and apply to anyone ages 8 and older in any indoor public or business areas and at outdoor public spaces when sufficient distancing can’t be maintained.
Holcomb said his order will also require masks in schools for grades 3 and above by students, teachers and other employees, but that he would leave decisions on reopening schools to local officials.
The Republican governor had resisted a statewide order as similar mask mandates were imposed in recent weeks for a growing number of Indiana cities, including Indianapolis, Evansville, South Bend, Gary, Bloomington and West Lafayette. All of Indiana’s neighboring states will also have mask mandates once one announced Wednesday by Ohio’s governor takes effect Thursday evening.
Holcomb said a renewed growth in the number of COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations across Indiana necessitated the mask order after he had started easing business and travel restrictions in early May.
“We want businesses to stay open, we want more Hoosiers to continue this trend of going back safely to work,” Holcomb said. “We don’t want to dial it back or put it in reverse or, as some are, shutting down again.”
The head of the state’s largest business organization called the mask mandate “a necessary step at this time in continuing to reopen Indiana safely.”
“Our economy will not be on the full road to recovery until some certainty is brought to this uncontrolled pandemic,” Indiana Chamber of Commerce President Kevin Brinegar said. “The wearing of masks is a proven strategy for protecting others and enhancing our health -- both physical and economic.”
Holcomb said widespread mask use will also help in school reopenings, saying “There is no more important task before us” than returning students to class.
“We’re asking our kids and their teachers to mask up and our kids should not be getting mixed messages throughout the day,” he said. “When they leave school grounds, they need to see that everyone is doing what they’re doing.”
Democratic governor candidate Woody Myers, a physician and former state health commissioner, called for a statewide mask order on July 1 and faulted Holcomb for not acting sooner.
“Governor 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 in a statement.
Holcomb repeated his support for allowing fans to attend the rescheduled Indianapolis 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which released a safety plan Wednesday for the Aug. 23 race.
Coronavirus hospitalizations jumped by 66 people to 869 as of Tuesday — a figure that’s plunged since peaking in mid-April but has curved back up since late June, according to the state health department. Indiana’s ICU cases grew by 61 people to 328 on Tuesday, up from the low 200s two weeks earlier.
Health officials also reported 17 more deaths of people with confirmed or presumed COVID-19 infections, raising the state’s death toll to 2,863 since mid-March.
A couple hundred people attended a weekend protest at the Statehouse against mask mandates and other restrictions imposed since the coronavirus outbreak swept across the country in March.
Holcomb pointed to President Donald Trump’s description of mask wearing as “patriotic” this week in defending his decision. He also said while violating the mask order was potentially a misdemeanor crime, the “mask police will not be patrolling Hoosier streets.”
Holcomb urged an end to the “cavalier behavior” by many people of not wearing face coverings when in crowded places.
“This is nothing that I wanted to do,” he said. “This is not about what I want to do or wished would be. This is what the reality is.”