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Local officials react to statewide mask mandate

A statewide mask mandate went into effect Monday, drawing mixed opinions from political leaders.

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mask mandate

PANDEMIC — Shoppers exit Kroger donning masks last Friday. As of Monday, wearing masks in public became mandatory in Indiana.

A statewide mask mandate went into effect Monday, drawing mixed opinions from political leaders.

Last week, Governor Eric Holcomb announced in a press conference that he would be enacting a statewide face-covering mandate in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The executive order required everyone from age 8 years old and older to wear a face covering in public spaces and commercial entities, while using public transportation or other vehicles like a taxi or rideshare, and when outdoors. Additionally, masks also are required when it is not possible to socially distance.

The move received a mixed reaction.

Indiana District 38 Representative Heath VanNatter denounced the executive order via a statement released on Friday.

“While I recognize the seriousness of COVID-19, I do not feel a statewide mask mandate is appropriate because these types of decisions should be left up to local governments and businesses,” VanNatter said. “This mandate came as a surprise to me, and I do not think it is a necessary step because I believe in personal responsibility as it is up to each Hoosier to do their part to slow the spread of this virus. I applaud House leadership in their efforts to work with the governor to remove the criminal penalty, but I wish there was more collaboration among the legislature and the governor’s office before announcing and implementing this executive order.”

Other local officials remained optimistic that Hoosiers and Howard County residents will see the mask mandate as a personal responsibility not just to themselves but to the community. Howard County Commissioner Paul Wyman urged the county to focus on the “real goal” of the mask mandate.

“We’ve certainly seen an increase in cases in our community, surrounding communities, across the state and across the country,” Wyman said. “Masks have shown to knock those droplets down and help slow the spread of the virus. It’s just my sincere hope that people will look around and realize that the virus is having a surge right now, and this is where we can all do our part. The truth of the matter is that the virus doesn’t know Republican. It doesn’t know Democrat. It doesn’t know laws. The virus just knows to spread, infect, and potentially kill people. Our goal is to slow that spread, save lives, help people who have underlying health conditions, you know, not get infected, and certainly help protect the elderly. That’s the real goal here.”

Gov. Holcomb’s signing of the mandate comes after a surge in COVID-19 cases in Indiana and surrounding states. As of Monday, there were currently 62,901 positive cases of COVID-19 in Indiana. The highest number of cases reported in one day was last week on July 24 with a record of more than 1,000 cases.

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“As we continue to monitor this data, we’ve been seeing a concerning change in some of our key health indicators,” Gov. Holcomb said. “By masking up, we can and will save lives and slow the spread of COVID-19.”

According to the executive order, exemptions to wearing a face covering are in place when exercising, swimming, eating and drinking, giving a speech or broadcast while still being able to socially distance and while attending and engaging in a religious service while socially distancing.

On a local level, the mask mandate joins a host of other businesses and public spaces, including retailers such as Walmart and Kroger, that have started to require face coverings.

While the executive order has not been written into law, police will respond to calls of disturbances on private property. This includes retail stores and any other businesses that have enacted a mask mandate alongside Governor Holcomb’s executive order.

“The purpose of our response is to enforce a lawful trespass violation as defined by the State of Indiana criminal code at the request of the private owner or operator,” said Kokomo Police Department Chief Douglas Stout in a release.

The Howard County Sheriff’s Department and Kokomo Police Department last week released a joint statement regarding the rights of citizens and business owners. While citizens won’t face penalties for not wearing a mask, they can face penalties for not following the rules of businesses and refusing to leave.

Because businesses and organizations operate on private property, those not in an official role don’t have a right to enter onto someone else’s private property without consent or abiding by the requests of the owner or operator.

Refusing to follow the guidelines of a private property owner or operator is a criminal offense classified as criminal trespass in violation of Indiana Statute 35-43-2-2 as a class A misdemeanor, which is punishable up to one year in jail.

“No one has a constitutional right to shop or conduct business on private property without the consent of the business or organization. All businesses or organizations may refuse service to anyone who refuses to follow their guidelines or rules when they are located on private property,” read the statement. “Officers of the Kokomo Police Department and deputies of the Howard County Sheriff’s office have the responsibility to enforce the laws and constitutional rights of everyone in our community.”