No county mask mandate

Allen County Health Commissioner Dr. Matthew Sutter said he wouldn't issue a county mask mandate ahead of the state order expiration April 6. However, he said, should COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations rise, he will reconsider it.

Allen County Health Commissioner Dr. Matthew Sutter isn’t planning to issue a mask mandate for the county since the state’s mask order ended April 6, but he and government leaders are asking residents to use “common sense” to keep the COVID-19 virus under control. They also ask customers to respect business owners’ decisions if they choose to continue to require masks.

“If we don’t keep the cases down, I’m concerned that people will die who don’t need to die,” Sutter said in a news conference April 1.

Not only is going out in public without a mask like operating a motorcycle without a helmet, “It’s like driving your car without brakes,” Sutter said.

However, it doesn’t mean people can go everywhere without masks. Fort Wayne will continue to ask visitors to its government buildings to wear masks until July Fourth, Mayor Tom Henry said.

Allen County Commissioner Therese Brown said a similar order will be in force until further notice at county government buildings.

Several people at the news conference asked that residents still continue to:

• Wear a mask

• Keep a distance from others

• Follow hygiene precautions

• Get a COVID-19 vaccine when available

All Hoosiers age 16 and older are eligible for the vaccine.

If Allen County cases and hospitalizations start to spike, Sutter said he will reconsider a county mask mandate.

“We are on the 5-yard line,” he said. “... Now is not the time to spike the ball and start dancing.”

“This pandemic is not over,” he said. “If this virus has taught me anything, it’s that when I think I’ve understood it, I don’t.”

The meeting had a decidedly more jovial tone than COVID-19 meetings a year ago, when the reality of the virus was just starting to be understood. At this news conference, authorities smiled, joked and laughed, but repeatedly acknowledged COVID-19 is still a serious threat.

On April 1, the Allen County Department of Health reported that the county had a total of 37,976 COVID-19 cases and 663 deaths.

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb’s mask mandate changed to a mask advisory April 6, but masks will still be required in state government buildings, schools and vaccination and testing sites. Individual communities will be able to make their own decisions on mask requirements.

Mike Nutter, president of the Fort Wayne TinCaps Minor League Baseball team, said because “we’re not quite there yet” as far as getting the pandemic under control Parkview Field will still require masks and social distancing for the foreseeable future.

On March 30, the city of Huntington announced an early April return to full capacity for local businesses and the locally enforced mask requirement becoming an advisory May 31.

On April 6, the city expected to lift all venue capacity restrictions at businesses and other entities within city limits when the county’s COVID-19 advisory level is orange, yellow or blue. The color codes are state measure of new cases and positivity rates within counties. Local businesses and other entities within the city can expect to resume full operations April 6 while still following social distancing guidelines.

Meanwhile, Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett announced March 25 that the greater Indianapolis area was keeping its mask mandate and capacity restrictions in place until the county’s health officials end the COVID-19 public health order.

—Cindy Larson contributed to this story.

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