Mask executive order

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb signed his statewide mask mandate, with the 30-day order going into effect July 27.

INDIANAPOLIS — Face coverings started being required July 27 inside public places, in outdoor spaces where social distancing can not be maintained and inside any public or for-hire transportation.

But the order does also include multiple exceptions and guidelines for when people can take off their mask and breathe a little easier.

Gov. Eric Holcomb announced July 22 that he would be signing the executive order placing a statewide mask mandate that took effect July 27, and Indiana has now joined numerous other states that have issued similar orders.

Holcomb had previously avoided a statewide order, although he offered full-throated support for businesses or local communities that wanted to mandate mask usage. LaGrange County was one such locality, having issued its own mask order June 15 in response to sharply rising cases that had occurred post-Memorial Day.

But last week, Holcomb said the data dictated that the state needed to take more aggressive measures, as COVID-19 activity has been steadily increasing since late June.

Holcomb outlined several of those factors in his order.

“There has been a rise in COVID-19 positivity across the state from a low of 3.6% a month ago to nearly double that percentage point now; our overall hospitalization census has increased from approximately 600 a day near the end of June to approximately 800 now; some counties which early on had minimal positive cases, in some instances are now reporting regular double-digit COVID-19 positive cases; and our surrounding states are all experiencing increases in positive cases,” the order states.

Starting July 27 and extending for 30 days, barring any new order to repeal or extend the order, “every individual within the State of Indiana shall wear a face covering over the nose and mouth.”

“Face coverings” are defined as “a cloth which covers the nose and mouth and is secured to the head with ties, straps, or loops over the ears or is simply wrapped around the lower face”

Holcomb said July 22 that while most people now use face masks that loop around the ears and sit tightly over their nose and mouth, things like bandanas, scarves, T-shirts or other makeshift materials would qualify.

While medical experts have stated that firm-fitting cloth masks are more effective at reducing spread of droplets, any barrier will be more effective than none.

The order details three specific scenarios when people must mask up:

• Inside a business, public building, or other indoor place open to the public. The order does not extend to private offices, private workspaces or meetings in which 6 feet of social distancing can be achieved and maintained

• In outdoor public spaces where it is not feasible to maintain 6 feet of social distancing from people outside of your household

• While using public transportation, taxis, private cars of ride-sharing services.

The executive order then details exemptions to the mandate, although still strongly encourages people to attempt to mask up or wear a face shield — a plastic shield worn in front of the face that doesn’t cover the nose and mouth — as an alternative.

The exemptions to the mask rule include:

• Children under 2 years old

• Children over the age of 2 but under the age of 8 unless otherwise required by the executive order

• Any person with a medical condition, mental health condition or disability which prevents wearing a face covering

• Any person who is deaf or hard of hearing or communicating with a person who is deaf or hard of hearing, where the ability to see the mouth is essential for communication

• Workers who may be at increased risk while at their job as determined by workplace safety guidelines

• People consuming food or drink or seated at a restaurant or other food establishment to eat or drink

• People exercising or engaging in sports activity and who can maintain distance from other people outside their household

• Anyone who is swimming in pools, lakes or other bodies of water and can maintain distance from others.

• Anyone driving alone or with passengers who are part of their household

• Any person obtaining a service requiring temporary removal of the face covering for security reasons, health care visits, personal services to the face or other reasons, although removal of the mask should be temporary and the mask replaced when able

• Any person requested to remove a face covering by law enforcement during an investigatory stop, investigation or court-related proceeding

• People who are incarcerated

• The homeless

• Any person giving a speech for broadcast or speaking to an audience as long as at least 6 feet of distance can be maintained

• And anyone attending religious services, as parishioners should already be maintaining at least 6 feet of distance from one another during services.

The executive order also details special guidelines for schools, as was discussed during the announcement.

Face coverings will be required for both public and private school students in grades 3 and up, as well as faculty, staff and visitors. Face coverings must be worn on buses or other school transportation unless they have a legitimate exemption.

Children ages 2-8 are not required to wear masks except on buses, but are encouraged to wear face coverings or shields if able.

The order also details that face coverings will not be required at all times if schools can meet and maintain distancing requirements. Students who are adequately spaced in classrooms will be allowed to remove their masks and masks can be taken off during recess as well if social distancing is maintained.

Anyone engaging in extracurricular activities are also required to wear masks except for those engaging in “strenuous physical activity” or otherwise exempted.

As for the enforcement of the order, the mandate details one paragraph titled “compliance,” stating that state and local health departments will be responsible for ensuring compliance and to dispel misinformation about mask usage.

Schools are responsible for developing and implementing their own enforcement plans inside their buildings.

On July 22, Holcomb briefly mentioned that people failing to comply could be, in extreme cases, charged with up to a Class B misdemeanor, although did not elaborate further.

Since then, Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill issued an advisory opinion stating that the governor did not have the authorization to enact criminal penalties with his mask order and that power was relegated to the Indiana General Assembly.

The executive order makes no mention of criminal penalties or other enforcement measures.

Counties, cities and towns, school corporations are allowed to impose more stringent face covering requirements than the statewide order, if desired.

Although the order offers no enforcement or potential penalties, the order does warn that if Indiana’s COVID-19 numbers show continued degradation, the state could revert backward on its reopening plan, causing new shutdowns.

“If the applicable data on the virus does not improve or continues to worsen in our State, there may be little choice but to reverse course and return to a prior stage in our reopening plan for Indiana,” the order states. “Such measures could include re-imposition of more stringent measures such as business closures or other burdensome limitations and implementation of new restrictions to help protect the health, safety and well-being of Hoosiers.”

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