Monroe County, home to Indiana University-Bloomington, is re-imposing a countywide mask mandate, requiring everyone – vaccinated and unvaccinated – wear a mask indoors starting Thursday at 8 a.m.
The mandate applies to everyone over the age of 2.
Masks will be required in all indoor spaces in Monroe County that are open to the public, including businesses, churches and other organizations. Those who are working alone in offices or who can maintain a 6-feet distance from others may remove masks, as can presenters.
County commissioners voted 3-0 on Wednesday morning to approve the local health order, making Monroe County the first county in the state to re-impose a local mask mandate amid news of the new delta strain of COVID-19.
The order was passed unanimously on Tuesday by the county’s board of health.
Three members of the public spoke during that meeting. All were opposed to the mandate.
Graham Loughead questioned why Monroe County would want to re-impose a mask mandate when it is doing much better than many other counties in the state in terms of the number of cases.
“The virus, the masks, the vaccines have become political even though they were not intended to be so,” he said. “I ask you to please not cause more division among fellow Hoosiers and to not re-implement this mask mandate and let businesses and the like decide whether or not to require masks.”
Scott Reynolds, a local attorney and business owner, said the order “fails to provide any evidence or data” and appears to be “more of an emotional response” or “desire to appear to be doing something.”
A third speaker, Jeff Hauser, said businesses and other organizations should be able to choose whether to require masks.
“There has been tremendous confusion,” he said. “We as the vaccinated people do what you guys say. We get vaccinated. Now, the vaccine doesn’t work. It’s been said the masks don’t work. But now, they’re saying, ‘Well, the masks do work.’ … It just seems to me like the mayor is asking for an overreach…he’s trying to cause panic in a place where there’s not a need for panic.”
County Health Administrator Penny Caudill said the county based its decision on Indiana State Department of Health data, which showed Monroe County going from blue (good) to yellow (caution) this week, with 58 cases per 100,000 people, compared to 51 last week. The positivity rate also went from 4.56% last week to 6.91% this week.
She also referred to CDC guidance that says even those who are vaccinated can contract and spread the delta variant. All of the samples recently rested in the area, she said, were the delta strain.
But hospitalizations in the area are still low.
A spokesperson for IU Health, Samantha Kirby, told The Center Square on Wednesday there are only 27 COVID patients at its three hospitals in south-central Indiana combined. Those hospitals include Bloomington Hospital, the largest hospital in Monroe County, and hospitals in Bedford, in Lawrence County, and in Paoli in Orange County.
The Indiana State Department of Health dashboard shows 0-3 people with COVID being admitted to one of two hospitals in Monroe County on a daily basis over the last few months. Not since March have more than three COVID patients been admitted per day to either IU Health Bloomington Hospital or Monroe Hospital.
Monroe County was one of the last to lift its local mask mandate in the spring, only scrapping it May 17, several weeks after Gov. Eric Holcomb rescinded the statewide mask mandate. Only Marion County kept its local mask mandate longer, lifting it in June.
Monroe County will also be one of the few counties in the state where children in K-12 schools will be required to wear masks. The first day of school was Wednesday and all students, vaccinated and unvaccinated, were required to wear masks on school buses and inside school buildings.
In addition to putting the mask mandate back in place, members of the county board of health appeared this week to agree on the need for compliance officers to enforce mask wearing in the county.
“I thought the compliance officers were great, “said board member Carol Litten Touloukian, a local physician. “I hope we could have them again, because we got really good feedback from businesses about taking the pressure off of them.”
The mask mandate will expire automatically Sept. 30, or when the number of people who test positive for COVID in Monroe County drops below 50 per 100,000 people.
This article was originally posted on Indiana’s first county reinstates mask mandate