Gov. Eric Holcomb wearing mask with Indiana logo - 4-30-20-AP.jpeg

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Citing increasing COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations, Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb said he will require Hoosiers to wear masks or face coverings in public starting next Monday. 

The mandate will be included in an executive order Holcomb said he plans to file on Thursday. It will apply to anyone eight years old and older while in "public indoor spaces and commercial entities," using public transportation and in outdoor situations where people can't practice social distancing. 

And while Holcomb promised that the "mask police" won't be patrolling in force, he said those who fail to abide by the order could be charged with a Class B misdemeanor. That penalty carries possible jail time of up to 180 days and a fine of no more than $1,000. 

Indiana will join Kentucky, where Gov. Andy Beshear issued a mask requirement earlier this month, and Ohio, whose governor, Mike DeWine, announced a similar mandate Wednesday.

Speaking in Indianapolis, Holcomb said his decision was driven by a rise in the state's average positivity rate -- an indicator that shows how many tests are positive over a period of time and adjusts for daily increases or decreases in testing. 

Indiana's seven-day average rate was about 3.6% around this time a month ago but has climbed to 7% recently and reached 8% on some days, Holcomb said. He also noted that some counties that were not a "blip on the radar screen" -- including Clark County in southern Indiana -- are regularly reporting double-digit positive cases.  

He said imposing a mask requirement will help Indiana continue its economic reopening and return students to school. 

"We want businesses to stay open. We want more Hoosiers to continue this trend of going back safely to work," he said. "We don't want to dial it back or put it in reverse--or, as some are, shutting down again. Face coverings will help us blunt this increase." 

The order will make masks mandatory for Indiana students in the third grade and above, as well as staff, faculty and volunteers, Holcomb said. There will be exceptions for strenuous physical activities, eating and drinking and "medical purposes," and in some instances where social distancing occurs. 

Holcomb acknowledged that there may be some pushback on the mask mandate, but he hopes to appeal to Hoosiers' sense of civic duty and pride.

Dr. Lindsay Weaver, the chief medical officer for the Indiana State Department of Health, said the guidance on wearing masks has changed during the pandemic, with "a growing number of studies that support wearing cloth face coverings to help reduce the transmission of COVID-19."

"Wearing a mask can reduce the distance that droplets from a cough or sneeze can spread. Some studies have suggested that they can reduce the risk of transmission by up to 80%," she said. 

She singled out the case of a Missouri hair salon where two stylists with COVID-19 were exposed to 139 clients, with all of them wearing masks. A Centers for Disease Control study found that no clients tested positive and concluded that following the "community’s and company’s face-covering policy likely mitigated spread of " the illness. 

Meanwhile, Weaver said, Indiana data show that nearly 40% of people who have tested positive have had no symptoms, meaning they could be spreading the virus without knowing it. 

Dr. Dan Rusyniak, Chief Medical Officer of the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration, credits a face mask with possibly helping him avoid getting the illness after a COVID-19 patient coughed in his face. 

"Please, please wear a mask," he said. "It might just save your life."

School update

Holcomb said he won't order a single start date for all schools to begin; local schools must make those decisions. 

But he encouraged districts that are starting with virtual education to also consider opening buildings and providing transportation for students "who need a safe site to participate in their online learning." 

Dr. Jennifer Sullivan, Secretary of the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration, said schools should space desks as far as possible facing in the same direction; place younger students into "pods"; disinfect and wash hands frequently; avoid birthday parties; and isolate and send home anyone with symptoms. 

In schools, she said, masks will be required for students in grades 3-12 at all times, except if a classroom can be situated so that all students and teachers are at least six feet apart; during recess, if social distancing is being enforced; when necessary for "instructional purposes"; or in other specific cases. 

All students, regardless of age, should wear masks while on school buses, she said. 

Staff and faculty must wear the coverings when interacting with colleagues or students, except if there is six feet between them and students in classrooms, she said. 

If a student or teacher tests positive, Weaver said officials will identify anyone who spent more than 15 minutes within six feet of that person during 48 hours before symptoms appeared; or 48 hours prior to a test, in the case of someone without symptoms. 

At that point, she said, any "close contacts" will be asked to stay at home and quarantine for 14 days while working with their local health departments. That process would start again for any positive tests among those people. 

She said an entire classroom may need to quarantine if schools don't have assigned seating or "cohorting" -- keeping students in small groups. 

Sullivan said that in schools with small "pods" of students, those groups will be forced to return home and quarantine for 14 days if one student tests positive for COVID-19. An entire classroom would be sent home for 14 days if at least two students test positive, she said. 

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