Pandemic notebook: Mandate for face coverings remains for Monroe County, as board of health wants IU fans to play better mask-it-ball

At its meeting on Thursday, Monroe County’s board of health didn’t make any changes to the health regulations that are meant to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

That means the end of the county’s mask mandate is still tied to hitting a target of 50 positive cases per week per 100,000 people in the county. That target for Monroe County translates into an average of about 10 cases a day.

The county is currently sitting at a daily case average of nearly 4 times the target.

The mask mandate requires people to wear a mask in indoor public places, unless they are actively eating and drinking, among other exceptions.

In light of the current increasing trend for positive cases, board of health members saw no reason to relax the mask requirement. That increasing trend has seen the rolling 7-day daily average just about double in about the last four weeks.

On Oct. 23 the rolling daily average was around 19 cases. By Thursday, that figure had increased to about 37 cases per day.

Thursday’s board of health meeting included some criticism of the lack of mask wearing by fans of Indiana University basketball games, held at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.

Board members who attended recent games reported that while fans might put on a mask when they arrive at the basketball venue, during the course of the game, they remove their masks.

Board of health member Stephen Pritchard, who said he’d attended all the games so far, described some of the efforts to enforce the county’s mask mandate this way: “They make announcements. The ushers that walk up and down the aisle carry a little sign that says, ‘Thank you for remembering to wear your mask.’”

The effect of the university’s efforts, Pritchard reported, is not great. He described fan behavior as “mass disobedience.”

Board member Carol Litten Touloukian reacted to the reports of widespread non-compliance with the mask mandate at basketball games by calling on IU do a better job of enforcement.

Touloukian said, “It’s clear to me it’s in violation of our ordinance. And it’s clear to me they’re not able to enforce it very well.” She added, “So I think the ball’s in IU’s court. What are they going to do, to enforce it better? Because they clearly aren’t.”

At Friday’s news conference of local leaders on pandemic response, The B Square put Touloukian’s question to the two representatives from Indiana University—Aaron Carroll, who is IU’s health officer, and Kirk White, who is IU’s vice provost for external relations.

Carroll first confirmed that IU considers Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall to be subject to the Monroe County’s mask mandate. “It’s in Monroe County, and we absolutely are part of the county and consider it to be part of the mandate.”

Carroll continued, “As you can imagine, it is difficult to patrol and police something the size of Assembly Hall. Lots of people who attend games are not from Bloomington or from Monroe County and therefore are used to different restrictions.”

As far as the university’s efforts to encourage compliance, Carroll said, “We have an enormous amount of signage. We are constantly asking and notifying that people should mask up.”

Carroll allowed that compliance with the mask mandate at basketball games is “nowhere near 100 percent.” About that, he said, “We’re continuing to push for better.”

White described some additional efforts that the university made to encourage wearing of masks inside Assembly Hall. “We send emails to all of our season ticket holders, to let them know that there is a mask mandate,” White said.

Masks are made available at the entrance, White said, because many fans arrive from places outside of Monroe County where there are no mask requirements. White reported that around 3,000 to 4,000 masks were distributed at a recent game.

White figured that some of the failure to wear masks at Assembly Hall comes from transference of a football fan mentality about mask wearing. Outdoors at a football game, the mask mandate doesn’t apply and the risk of transmission is not as great, White noted. “You get into that groove and then you kind of transfer it to Assembly Hall,” White said.

White said that mask compliance is better in other, non-athletic venues, where people are not getting caught up in the excitement of the game they’re watching.

The Friday afternoon news conferences held by local leaders about pandemic response are now on a biweekly schedule. That means the next one is set for Dec. 3.