INDIANAPOLIS — Masks will be mandatory in public places in Indiana starting Monday, Gov. Eric Holcomb announced Wednesday.
"Face coverings can and will help us blunt this increase," Holcomb said.
Holcomb cited increases in cases, increasing positivity rates, increasing hospitalizations and rises in cases in neighboring states as reasons why Indiana will join numerous other states in requiring its residents to wear masks in public.
The mask mandate will be for anyone 8 years old or or older while in public indoor spaces and commercial entities, when using public transportation or other vehicle spaces and outdoor public spaces when it's not possible to be distanced from other people.
Holcomb said his executive order will also include exceptions for certain people with medical conditions and other reasons, although details about who will be exempted will be in the executive order when released.
The executive order is being finalized on Wednesday and will be signed Thursday, Holcomb said. The order won't take effect until Monday in order to give communities, businesses and Hoosiers themselves time to prepare for the mask order.
The governor said that his decision to implement the mask mandate now was brought on by continuing signs in the state data calling for it and his desire not to be looking back a few weeks from now wishing he had acted sooner.
"I don't want us to be three weeks from now where they were or are right now. This is yet another piece of the puzzle we need to put in place to do all we can, all of us," Holcomb said. "It's not that the voices got louder it's the numbers got bolder. We're courageous enough around here to do the right thing."
Holcomb also pointed out that the order will require "face coverings," and while that's become synonymous with masks of all types, even improvised types of face coverings will be better than nothing.
While medical masks or fitted cloth masks that sit snugly against the face are most effective, even wrapped cloths can catch some of the droplets spread by coughing, sneezing or other methods and have an effect.
"So I always talk about mask up, but it can be a scarf. It can be a cloth, a T-shirt tied. When you're in those spaces, what we're trying to do is very simply, this is elementary, stop the transmission of COVID-19 whether you know you have it or not," Holcomb said.
Following Holcomb's introduction, doctors from Indiana's state agencies offered support and information about mask use and its effectiveness.
"Wearing a mask can reduce the distance the droplets from a cough or sneeze can spread," Indiana State Department of Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Lindsay Weaver said, adding that some studies have shown masks can reduce transmission of viruses up to 80%.
Weaver and Sullivan also responded to Hoosiers about disinformation that masks do not raise the probability for infection and do not reduce oxygen intake or increase carbon dioxide concentrations, so they are safe to wear, even for extended periods of times.
Sullivan talked about surgeons, health care providers and even children who are cancer patients who have to wear masks for all the time with no negative side effects.
"Fabric is not solid and the molecules that go back and forth across those masks are smaller than the holes in them. You can breathe in and out just like you can without then. No worries about toxins," Sullivan said. "Some of the smartest people in the world wear masks all days for their job."
Although polling around the nation has showed voluntary mask usage has hovered around 40% in some places — and a KPC Media Group poll earlier this year showed that slightly more than half of residents reported not wearing a mask in public — Dr. Jennifer Sullivan, a pediatrician and the secretary of the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration said she believed the enforcement of the state's new mask mandate will change behaviors.
Sullivan cited the old "Click it or ticket" campaign police have run for years to enforce seat belt restrictions and those enforcement actions helped improve seat belt usage rates from around 18% to around 88% in about 16 months time.
"The mandate we believe will help change behavior for those who are on the fence," Sullivan said.
From there, Holcomb spent most of his opening address discussing schools reopening, including the use of masks in schools.
"A statewide mandate means we will require mask use in schools," Holcomb said.
Third grade students and above will be mandated to wear masks in schools.
Sullivan discussed school reopening and the importance of trying to return as many students to in-person learning as possible.
"Indiana flattened the curve for health care and now we have flattened it for kids," Sullivan said.
Sullivan said schools should space desks as far as possible, cohort younger students, encourage hand washing and disinfecting, plan scheduled to reduce contact between students, do not conduct birthday parties or other events that put students in close contact and to isolate and send home any symptomatic students.
Sullivan then detailed some more specifics about mask usage in school, stating that third graders and up will be required to wear masks at "all times" within the building with a few exceptions.
Students can de-mask at times including outdoor recess, inside the classroom if 3-6 feet of distance can be maintained between all students, at times when deemed necessary for instruction reasons and other specific exemptions for students with legitimate health or learning reasons.
Holcomb said that mask use has been shown as effective and encouraged all Hoosiers to take part in order to ensure that Indiana does not start to backslide on the progress it has made in controlling COVID-19.
"I know not everyone will be supportive of this mandate, compliance and enforcement will always be in question," Holcomb said.
This story is developing and will be updated throughout the afternoon.