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Indiana governor supports local mask mandates; health commissioner says ‘difficult to enforce’

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The governor threw his support behind a Marion County face mask mandate set to take effect Thursday, but did not commit to issuing a similar order statewide.

When asked Wednesday during a Statehouse briefing if he would consider a statewide mask mandate in light of rising COVID-19 cases, Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb said he “supported locals making that decision.”

He believes government orders to mask up amid the pandemic are constitutional and scientifically proven to reduce coronavirus transmission, he added.

Governors in neighboring Illinois and Michigan issued orders requiring face coverings in some public settings; the Ohio governor issued a mask mandate in seven counties.

The governor of Kentucky, which has no mask mandate, issued a press release Wednesday that teased the announcement of “some new requirements that are going to be mandatory.”

Holcomb appeared to prefer appealing to Hoosiers’ sense of social responsibility.

The state recently rolled out a #MaskUpHoosiers video campaign that features the governor and other officials encouraging citizens to wear masks by holding up “I Wear My Mask For” signs.

“On July 4, we had two races at the [Indianapolis Motor Speedway],” Holcomb said during Wednesday’s virtual briefing. “The men and women who were down there on the track in the pit crew, at 129 degrees, were wearing their masks for the entire race. I think if they can do this, I can, too.”

Dr. Kris Box, the state health commissioner, said “masks are the answer” whether the novel coronavirus spreads through close contact or lingers in the air.

Mask mandates are “difficult to enforce,” but appeared to be effective in LaGrange and Elkhart counties, she added.

The Marion County Public Health Department will lead enforcement of Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett’s order.

Violators could be fined up to $1,000. Officials did not confirm the minimum penalty.

Local law enforcement will not be tasked with policing the use of masks, according to the Indianapolis Fraternal Order of Police (FOP).

“Hopefully there’s some type of crackdown so people are more concerned about it and try to actually wear their masks more,” said Zelalem Temesgen, a lifelong Indianapolis resident who supported the mandate.

She and her friends wore masks Wednesday evening when they were walking downtown along Massachusetts Avenue; most people around them did not.

Shannon Bermudez, a basketball mother from a Philadelphia suburb whose family was visiting Indianapolis for a tournament, also wore a mask.

She was surprised to learn Indiana had no mask mandate and said she was disappointed to see Hoosiers flouting recommendations from public health officials.

“We actually checked out of our hotel because no one was wearing a mask,” Bermudez said. “They’re downstairs congregating. There’s groups of people with alcohol. Even in the basketball tournament, the masks were required. But people are disregarding it.”