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INDIANAPOLIS– Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb announced Indiana will begin mandating face coverings statewide starting Monday, July 27.

Holcomb pointed to several factors in making this determination, including an increase in the state’s COVID-19 positivity rate. He also noted some counties who previously had a very low amount of cases have seen increases.

The mandate will apply to anyone 8 years old or older in indoor public spaces, commercial entities, transportation services and outdoor areas where social distancing is not possible.

Mask use in schools will be required for students in 3rd grade and up. It will apply for faculty and staff, volunteers and anyone else in the schools.

Masks will also be required for co-curricular and extra-curricular activities, as well as on the school bus.

Exemptions will be made for the following:

  • Medical purposes
  • Strenuous physical activity
  • Eating and drinking

Masks are strongly recommended, but not required, for children 2-7 years old.

There is no set expiration time for the mandate. Holcomb said it will continue as long as its needed.

“Face coverings can and will help us blunt this increase,” Holcomb said. “It has in other places around the country and the world.”

Violating the order could result in a Class B misdemeanor, which carries a potential 180-day jail sentence and a fine of up to $1,000. Holcomb made a point to say that the “mask police will not be patrolling Hoosier streets.”

“The simple act of covering our faces, as odd as it may feel, can help us prevent the transmission of the virus,” he said.

When speaking about schools, Gov. Holcomb said the state won’t create mandates, expectations or guidelines for when schools should reopen. He will leave it up to local school districts, but is asking they consider opening up and providing transportation to help families that can’t afford to stay home with their kids.

“There is no more important task before us than returning students safely to school for instruction,” Holcomb said.

Indiana Family and Social Services Administration (FSSA) Secretary Dr. Jennifer Sullivan said what we do now will determine how many kids are able to go back to school. Limiting transmission will encourage parents to feel comfortable sending kids to class.

She provided these interventions to minimize the spread of COVID-19 in schools.

  • Space desks as far as possible facing in the same direction
  • Cohort younger students into pods
  • Frequent hand washing and disinfecting
  • Plan schedules so that a minimum number of students are close contacts
  • Do not conduct birthday parties or other events that put students in close contact
  • Isolate and send home any person who develops symptoms

The following are exceptions to the mask mandate as it applies to schools specifically:

  • If a school classroom can be configured so that all students and instructors are at least 3-6 feet apart
  • During outdoor recess where proper social distancing measures are enforced
  • When deemed necessary by a school official for instructional purposes
  • Individual discretion for students with an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or 504 learning plan

Instructors in classrooms with at least six feet between the instructional area and the students will not be required to wear a mask while social distancing is observed.

Pods of kids who move through the school together throughout the day will allow small groups to isolate when there is a positive case, instead of quarantining the whole class or closing school.

“The threshold to close a pod is one case, and to close a classroom is two cases,” said Sullivan. “This is what we have successfully done in the childcare setting.”

For those concerned about the safety of wearing a mask, Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH) Chief Medical Officer Dr. Lindsay Weaver had this to say:

“Physicians and other clinicians have worn masks for a long time to protect themselves and their patients. This is standard practice to help prevent the spread of disease. You wouldn’t want to go into an operating room with a doctor who wasn’t wearing a mask.

“While the guidance on masks has changed throughout this pandemic, there are 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.”

On Wednesday, ISDH reported 763 new cases of COVID-19 and 14 additional deaths, bringing the statewide totals to 58,673 and 2,666 respectively.