A new health order issued Friday afternoon requires Monroe County residents to wear face coverings when they’re not at home—with several caveats.
The order took effect at 5 p.m. on Friday, a few hours after it was issued by Monroe County health officer Thomas Sharp. It will stay in effect until it’s rescinded, according to the order.
The order comes as numbers of confirmed positive cases continue to rise in the county, and hospitalizations are starting to edge upward as well. The last death in Monroe County due to COVID-19 came three and a half weeks ago, on June 21.
The number of deaths now stand at 28, and confirmed positive cases at 417.
The 17 cases logged on July 16 was one shy of the highest daily total since the pandemic started. One of the recent cases, announced by the city of Bloomington on Friday, is a Bloomington Transit maintenance staffer. The BT maintenance worker did not have frequent contact with the public, according to the news release.
Brian Shockney, who’s president of IU Health’s South Central Region, reported higher hospitalization numbers for the system, at Friday’s weekly press conference given by local leaders on COVID-19 matters.
Shockney said from July 7 to July 13, IU’s south central region census has increased from 5 patients to 15, just in that week. The number of pending cases—patients waiting for test results—has also tripled, Shockney said. He said there was a doubling of cases among IU Health workers—which arose out of community-based transmission not in the health care setting, he said.
The basic face-covering rule for Monroe County is that face coverings—a face shield, mask or other covering—must be worn over the nose and mouth, anytime someone is not inside their own home or the home of an immediate family member.
In outdoor settings, the order allows for face coverings not to be worn, but only if a six-foot physical distance can be maintained. If it’s a setting where people can’t keep six feet away from each other, then a face covering is required.
Some exceptions apply. For example, children under two years old aren’t required to wear a face covering. People who are hearing- or speaking-impaired don’t have to wear a face covering—if it’s an obstacle to communication. People driving in their personal vehicles aren’t required to wear a face covering, either. Exceptions also apply to some exercise groups.
If people are unsure about whether a face covering is required, local leaders are encouraging people to err on side of wearing a face covering.
At Friday’s weekly press conference on COVID-19 matters given by local leaders Shockney put the basic principle in slogan form: “If you have to ask, wear a mask.”
The new county health order also includes rules on crowd sizes, and a prohibition against bar-top service in restaurants, set to go into effect on July 31.
At Friday’s press conference, Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, said he would be issuing an order next Monday that will put the county’s restrictions on crowd size and bar-top service into effect earlier than the county’s health order says. That means inside the city limits, the rules will take effect on July 23. [Updated July 20, 2020. As expected, the mayor’s order was issued on Monday.]
The limits on sizes of crowds apply to two kinds of gatherings—non-commercial and commercial. For noncommercial gatherings—like those at private residences,
including fraternities and sororities on or off the Indiana University campus—the limit is 50 people.
For commercial gatherings, where the crowd is in a venue that is offered to the general public for rent or use an indoor gathering can’t be bigger than 100 people. An outdoor commercial gathering is limited to 150 people.
Under the county’s order, table-top seating at restaurants, bars, and nightclubs has to be provided for all customers. Bar-top service is not allowed.
According to the mayor’s office, Hamilton’s authority to issue the order is based on a part of Indiana Code that gives a local government general powers to ensure public safety. [IC-36-8-2-5] It’s the same authority recently used by West Lafayette’s mayor to issue a similar order.
A followup message to media from the mayor’s office Friday evening, reiterated the mayor’s comments at Friday’s press conference about the reason for the swifter implementation inside the city—on July 23 instead of July 31. It’s based on the idea that “even a week can make a difference in case numbers when it comes to behaviors.”