CROWN POINT — Face masks still will be required in Lake County government buildings and Lake County Public Library branches even after Indiana's face mask mandate expires Tuesday.
Lake County Commissioner Mike Repay, D-Hammond, announced Thursday all visitors to the Lake County Government Center, county courthouses, and other county government buildings must wear a face mask to enter through at least April 30.
Likewise, Lake County Library Director Ingrid Norris said anyone entering the system's nine library locations for the foreseeable future must continue wearing a face mask, follow social distancing guidelines, and abide by other COVID-19 prevention measures.
"It is too early to abandon them. There is strong evidence that they have worked," Norris said. "The longer we stay on the right path the quicker we'll arrive at normal."
Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb issued an executive order Wednesday converting the state's mask mandate into a mask recommendation after he concluded the number of Indiana COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths no longer warrant such an extraordinary remedy.
At the same time, the governor's order explicitly permits businesses and other entities open to the public to set more stringent entry standards, such as continuing to require face masks.
In addition, the governor said face masks and other COVID-19 prevention protocols still are required in all state government buildings, including Bureau of Motor Vehicles offices, along with all COVID-19 vaccination and testing sites until further notice.
Elementary and high schools also will follow the current face covering requirements for the remainder of the 2020-21 school year, he said.
LaPorte County mandate
In LaPorte County, a countywide mask mandate was extended Thursday in response to rising COVID-19 cases.
The decision was made by LaPorte County Health Officer Dr. Sandra Deausy after meeting with a wide range of elected officials, including the mayors of LaPorte and Michigan City.
The mandate in effect since July was continued until April 30.
The statewide mask mandate will be lifted April 6, but the governor is giving local governments the option of keeping their mask mandates in place.
Under the continued LaPorte County mandate, every person must properly wear a face covering over their nose and mouth at indoor areas open to the public, including public transportation.
Masks must also be worn in public areas outside when six feet of social distancing cannot be maintained.
Deausy said she will decide whether to extend the mandate again at the end of the month.
According to the Indiana State Department of Health on Thursday, the number of people in LaPorte County testing positive for the virus the past seven days stood at 8.9%.
The seven day positivity rate in LaPorte County dropped to as low as 3.2% at the end of February.
Fewer people wearing a mask and practicing social distancing from a false sense of security because of vaccines being available is one reason cited by experts for cases rising again.
“I know we’re all bone weary of this, but this is a once-in-our-lifetime pandemic. It’s not time to let up,” said LaPorte County Commissioner Sheila Matias.
LaPorte County Health Department Administrator Amanda Lahners said about 16% of LaPorte County residents have been fully vaccinated.
She estimated herd immunity cannot be obtained unless vaccinations are given to 75% to 80% of the population.
“We’re so close to this being over. We just have to hold on for a little bit longer,” Lahners said.
Lahners said an average of about 500 people per day have been receiving the Moderna vaccine at the LaPorte County Health Department vaccination clinic at the fairgrounds.