Local doctors, health experts say state-wide mask mandate is ending too early

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A discarded face mask lies in the street in San Francisco, Wednesday, March 17, 2021. Disposable masks, gloves and other personal protective equipment have safeguarded untold lives during the pandemic. They’re also creating a worldwide environmental problem, littering streets and sending an influx of harmful plastic into landfills and oceans. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

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INDIANAPOLIS — As Indiana celebrates one million fully-vaccinated Hoosiers, some local health experts in central Indiana are expressing concern over rising variants.

“Half of me is extremely elated and very excited that the state is opening up eligibility,” said Graham McKeen, Assist University Director of Public and Environmental Health at IU. “However, though, the timing is a little bit of an issue in terms of a public health perspective.”

On Tuesday, Governor Eric Holcomb announced eligibility will open to any Hoosier 16+ on March 31. Less than a week later, Gov. Holcomb announced he will also be ending the state-wide mask mandate on April 6.

“To end some of the restrictions, and very simple low barrier, low-cost prevention measures like masks, the day after the National Championship I think is a little premature,” said McKeen. “It doesn’t really give you the timeframe to really see any impacts from that event but also to continue to see if we’re seeing an impact from these variants.”

According to the CDC website, Indiana has 68 cases of the UK variant, B117, which spreads more rapidly. 

Dr. Michael Weiner, a scientist with Regenstrief Institute and a professor at the IU School of Medicine, said Indiana can expect more variants to emerge in the days ahead.

“More than 80% of those [eligible] Indiana residents are not yet fully vaccinated. So, that tells us a lot. I think it tells us that we’re not really ready to lift most of those protections yet,” Dr. Weiner said.

Both McKeen and Dr. Weiner said they are worried Hoosiers will ditch their masks too soon, especially since there is a 2-6 week waiting period until someone is fully immune after their final dose — and that’s if they get an earlier appointment. 

Dr. Weiner said it is important to keep your guard up until Indiana reaches herd immunity – something he estimates will take a few more months.

“There may be some benefit to holding out a little bit longer, until we’re really more confident that the coast is clearer for just about everybody,” said Dr. Weiner. “I’m thinking about summer to fall at the earliest.”

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