Governor requiring face masks for most Indiana students in schools, on buses

AVON, Ind. (WISH) — Parker Thompson’s face mask makes him hot and uncomfortable, but he still chooses to wear it in public.

He’s 6 years old; young enough to be exempt from the governor’s statewide mask mandate.

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb announced Wednesday he would sign an executive order requiring people 8 years and older to wear face coverings in indoor public spaces, outdoor public spaces where social distancing is not possible, commercial establishments and public transit vehicles.

The order takes effect on July 27.

The mandate applies to students in third grade and above, and all school faculty, staff, volunteers and visitors. Face coverings will be required during extracurricular activities and on school buses.

Exceptions include medical conditions that prevent the safe wearing of face masks, disabilities and strenuous physical activity.

Despite the state’s increased efforts to address rising COVID-19 cases and new school reopening guidelines issued Wednesday by the Family and Social Services Administration, Thompson will not join his peers in a first-grade classroom when the new school year begins.

His mother, a nurse, is opting to keep him home and continue e-learning.

Thompson is enrolled in the Avon Community School Corporation, the first district in Indiana to close schools over coronavirus concerns.

Beth Ann Benefiel, who has four grandchildren enrolled in Avon schools, said she was concerned about students returning to in-person classes amid a worsening pandemic, even with strictly enforced mask requirements.

“I would prefer for them to stay home a little bit longer,” she said of her grandchildren.

Holcomb “supports virtual learning,” but believes school administrators should aim to reopen safely, he said Wednesday during his Statehouse press conference.

“There are hybrid approaches and face-to-face approaches, and, we hope, phased-in approaches; bringing the youngest back first,” the governor suggested.

Children of any age can contract and spread COVID-19, according to public health officials.

Benefiel’s sister, who works at a Brownsburg daycare for children ages 2 to 4, began experiencing COVID-19 symptoms within days of returning to work.

“She called her family doctor and they suggested that she go and get tested [on Friday],” Benefiel told News 8.

She had not yet received her test results on Wednesday and was attempting to maintain distance from her husband.

Masks are not required but “strongly recommended” for children ages 2 to 7 under the governor’s executive order.

Thompson, who sports a cloth SpongeBob SquarePants mask, knows face coverings alone will not guarantee protection from the novel coronavirus.

He cleaned his hands with half a dozen spritzes of hand sanitizer after speaking to News 8 from a safe distance.