Dr. Box: Not following mask order could lead to more restrictions

(Photo supplied/State Of Indiana)

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana’s mask order is unlikely to get stricter or looser, but not following it could lead to other restrictions.

State health commissioner Kris Box says there’s still a lot unknown about COVID-19, but what’s now “100-percent clear” is that masks are both inexpensive and effective at limiting the virus’s spread. She says local health departments in counties with some of Indiana’s worst virus rates, including Fayette and Fountain, report residents have been resistant to mask-wearing, with some continuing to insist the virus is just a political concoction that will fade from view after the election.

COVID-19 has killed more than four-thousand Hoosiers so far. And Box says while senior citizens remain most at risk, there have been 21 COVID deaths in the last two weeks of Hoosiers under 50.

Governor Holcomb acknowledges frustration at resistance to what he says is the best way to limit the spread. But he says he hasn’t pursued enforcement of the mask order because it can’t be carried out effectively. Holcomb says he applauds local governments who have enforced mask orders at businesses, but says the state doesn’t have that kind of capacity, and says other states which have attempted it are seeing virus numbers just as bad as Indiana’s.

Holcomb says what’s needed is “massive community buy-in” on wearing masks. He says those still resistant to the idea should consider the cost of not doing so. He says mask defiance is fueling the virus’s spread, and says if numbers soar too high, it could force schools to close again and endanger hospitals’ ability to handle the patient load.

A record 18-hundred people have been hospitalized with coronavirus the last two days. Holcomb says hospitals are better equipped to handle the load than when the state hit its previous high near that level in April — they’re better supplied with masks, gloves, disinfectant, and ventilators. But Holcomb says hospitals’ capacity isn’t infinite, and Box warns the strain of the steady torrent of patients is beginning to leave hospital staff exhausted.

The health department classifies all but 18 counties at high risk for spread or nearing that point. Box says the department is urging local health officials to consider steps to limit social gatherings, including limiting or banning spectators at high school football and basketball games. Box warns the health department could impose those limits itself in counties like Fayette, in the red zone the last two weeks, if their numbers don’t decline significantly by next week.

Box says limiting high school events isn’t a step she wants to take, but says, “We have to take this virus seriously.”

A day after winning a landslide reelection, Holcomb opened his weekly briefing on the virus by denouncing anti-mask activists who spread “rumors and disinformation” online in the days before the election, claiming a secret plan to return the state to full lockdown once the election was over. Holcomb says those claims were not only false, but cause real-world harm by affecting people’s behavior.

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