INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana’s COVID-19 numbers have plunged over the last few weeks after hitting record highs during a surge of the Omicron variant.
That same trend is happening across the country and prompted governors in four states to announce their intentions to end mask mandates in school buildings.
“I think you’re going to see the same thing in New York, New Jersey, other states where Omicron has come down, where vaccination rates are especially high,” former FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said on Sunday. “I think you’re going to see states do that. And we’re at a point where we can safely contemplate that.”
Indiana doesn’t have a statewide mask mandate, but many districts have required masks on their own.
“For Indiana it’s definitely too soon,” Shandy Dearth at the IU Fairbanks School of Public Health said. “It’s great that our numbers are coming down but we’re basically looking at where we were at the beginning of December and that’s still really high.”
Dearth said Indiana is in a different place than states like New Jersey and Connecticut, a couple of the states planning to end school mask mandates. She pointed out that only roughly 17% of Hoosier children are vaccinated.
“Since our kids are under vaccinated, we definitely need to keep the masks on while our numbers are this high,” Dearth said.
Dr. Chris Belcher, who specializes in pediatric infectious disease at Ascension St. Vincent, said masks in school do help prevent the spread of the virus.
“In school you might have that same desk mate for an hour or two at a time,” Dr. Belcher said. “I don’t think it’s fair to say that just because it hurts kids less frequently than adults that we can ignore it.”
Edinburgh Community Schools recently extended its mask mandate until March 4. Superintendent Ron Ross said his goal is to keep as many health people in school as possible.
“The Indiana State Department of Health is still saying that we do not have to quarantine anyone at school if they are wearing masks,” Ross said in a statement. “To keep healthy students in school and help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 we believe that masks are necessary.”
Dearth said it’s possible the masks could come off sometime in April. However, until then she said it’s best to keep them on.
“This will become endemic probably later this year and so will have to adjust how we deal with COVID-19 going forward,” Dearth said. “But right now it’s just a little bit early to say let’s go ahead with removing the mask.”