NEWTON COUNTY — Gov. Eric Holcomb’s statewide mask mandate is now in effect in Indiana, but don’t expect any enforcement of that mandate in Newton County.
The mandate began on Monday and has several key factors:
- Applies to anyone 8 or older in indoor public spaces, commercial entities or transportation services, or outside public spaces when people cannot socially distance.
- Mask use in schools is required for Grade 3 and higher for faculty and staff, volunteers, and anyone in schools. Masks also will be required for co-curricular and extracurricular activities, with exceptions for strenuous physical activity.
- Exceptions will be made for medical purposes, strenuous physical activity, eating, and drinking.
- Masks are strongly recommended for ages 2-7.
Holcomb said this mandate was issued because he claims the state is seeing an increase in overall hospitalizations and a rise in positive COVID-19 cases.
Both Newton County Prosecutor Jeff Drinski and Sheriff Tom VanVleet have said they will not be enforcing the mandate. When the executive order was first announced Holcomb said that failure to comply with the order may result in possible fines and a Class B misdemeanor.
“Although I respect a person’s decision to wear a mask,” stated Drinski. “I agree with the attorney general that the governor does not have the authority to make it criminal not to wear a mask in public spaces. I also question the fact that he has extended the 30-day emergency disaster four times while our ICU and ventilator numbers have steadily declined since April. Today 2.9 percent of Indiana ventilators are being used by COVID patients. I have not filed any criminal charges for violating the stay at home order (which was valid) and I won’t file criminal charges for violations of the mask mandate.”
“Due to the legal uncertainty of Governor Holcomb’s latest executive order requiring everyone to wear face masks while in public, as well as a variety of other uncertainties and the potential of litigation over the issue, the Newton County Sheriff’s Office will not be enforcing the order,” said VanVleet. “However, we strongly encourage everyone to continue to follow the CDC guidelines in attempting to keep everyone safe.”
Many elected officials from throughout the state including Attorney General Curtis Hill questioned the mandate when Holcomb announced it.
“Scientists tell us that wearing face masks is an effective means of helping prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19,” Hill wrote. “The wisdom of wearing masks — or of laws requiring such measures — is not the issue here. Rather, the issue is whether we are following the proper and constitutional processes for enacting laws and whether we are respecting the distinct roles of each branch of state government.”
After all of the concerns of the legality of the order coming from throughout the state, Holcomb has changed the enforcement of the mandate.
State and local health departments will now be responsible for enforcing compliance of the mask mandate, and the executive order which was signed Friday (July 24) does not include criminal penalties for people who don’t wear a mask.
“I know not everyone will be supportive of this mandate,” said Holcomb last week during a briefing. “Compliance and enforcement are always in question. Our approach, if you recall, since Day 1, since the very beginning of this pandemic, has an approach of education, of appealing to one’s civic duty and the public good. You might even say public pride and being part of the solution. And it will continue to be.”