Why Indiana’s top doctor won’t require facemasks

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State health officials have emphasized for months that masks are important and effective to stop COVID-19, but they’ve also been firm in saying they won’t require them. They’re elaborating on why not.

Health commissioner Kris Box says in the nine months when there was a statewide mask order, many local governments just ignored it. She says they’ve made clear they believe that’s their decision.

And Box says she understands and respects people who believe wearing a mask should be their choice. She says particularly when the pandemic has left people feeling a loss of control over their lives, it’s understandable that people object to being ordered to do something.

But Box says she can’t understand the fierce resistance to wearing masks. She says there’s persuasive evidence that masks reduce the spread of COVID-19. She points to a North Carolina study which found schools with universal mask requirements slashed the rate of transmission to less than two-percent.

Nearly a third of new Indiana cases are kids. Box notes kids under 12 can’t get vaccinated, and teenagers who are eligible mostly haven’t. She says keeping schools open for in-person classes is critical to students’ education, and says the combination of masks and vaccination are critical to making that happen.

In the last week, individual schools in Noblesville and Mount Vernon have temporarily returned to online learning after COVID-19 outbreaks sent absence rates soaring.

Box says the health department will focus on giving cities, counties, and school boards the fullest information on combating the pandemic, including masks’ effectiveness.

Box says the fast-spreading Delta variant has enough of a toehold that the current surge will last into October, with hospitalizations rising a few weeks after cases do. But she says the one-two combo of masks and vaccination are critical to avoiding a worse outbreak later this fall and winter.

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