Updated: [Governor rescinds emergency order] Mask mandate rescinded by Monroe County health board effective after March 3

Monroe County’s indoor mask order was rescinded on a unanimous vote of the Monroe County board of health at its Thursday afternoon meeting.

The indoor mask mandate is no longer in effect after the end of March 3—at midnight between Thursday and Friday. The mandate is connected with an effort to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic virus.

The board of health replaced the mandate with a series of strong recommendations on mask wearing, vaccination, cautions about gathering sizes, and posting of signs by businesses encouraging wearing of masks.

Among the sample signs for businesses shown to board of health members were some that promoted the message: Be nice to people who are wearing masks.

Businesses can still insist that their customers wear masks.

Monroe County health administrator Penny Caudill suggested that the board continue to meet monthly for a while so that they can stay up to date.

At Thursday’s board of health meeting, Indiana University vice provost for external relations Kirk White said IU would be promoting the value of “one-way masking” on all of its campuses.

Responding to a reporter’s question, Caudill said she thinks the board’s action to rescind the mask order does not need confirmation by the three-member county board of commissioners. Under state law, the imposing of the order required the approval of county commissioners.

The recommendations are to be posted on the Monroe County website by Friday, Caudill said.

The Monroe County board of health’s decision to rescind its mask order is effective 24 hours before the end of Indiana governor Eric Holcomb’s emergency health order, which is set to expire at the end of the day on Friday, March 4.

[Added at 8:12 p.m. on Thursday, March 3, 2022. Indiana governor Eric Holcomb rescinded the emergency health order at 7 p.m. on Thursday, a day earlier than it had been set to expire.]

A key condition that Holcomb had set out for letting his order expire without extending it again was some legislation that would ensure continuation of some federal funding and allow young children to be vaccinated. That bill got a vote by the state house on Thursday and was signed into law the same day, based on reporting from the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette.

At its previous meeting, Monroe County board of health members had indicated their inclination to let the local mask mandate expire with the governor’s order—it had been contingent on Holcomb’s order being in place.

As defined by the local mask mandate’s metrics, the mandate would likely have expired in the next week or so, under its own terms. Those terms based on the most recent number of positive cases and positivity rates.

The most recent rolling average for positivity rate is under 5 percent, which puts Monroe County in the best category for that metric.

And the most recent 7-day rolling average (Feb. 24) for positive cases stands at 13.29. That’s three fewer than the same date in 2021. To hit the weekly target for the local mask mandate’s metrics, the daily rolling average would need to be less than 10 a day.

Remarks by board of health members at Thursday’s meeting indicated their conclusion that the mask mandate had helped reduce community spread of the virus.

In response to potentially worse future conditions, board member George Hegeman said, “I would like to see the opportunity to be able to whip the masks out and return to a situation, which we may need to return to, if we do.”

Health board remarks drew criticism during public commentary from speakers who urged the board of health not to think in terms of “whipping out” another mask mandate.

They also questioned whether there is any data supporting the conclusion that Monroe County’s mask mandate had improved conditions locally compared to surrounding areas.