That’s good news, in terms of the state’s metrics for community disease spread. But it still leaves the county at about twice the number of daily cases needed for an automatic lifting of the indoor mask mandate.
The county’s board of health voted to extend the mask mandate at its meeting last week. The lifting of the mandate is not tied to a date, but to a specific benchmark. That benchmark corresponds to a rolling 7-day average of 10.6 cases a day, which is about half the current number.
Monroe County’s indoor mask mandate, for the vaccinated and unvaccinated alike, will continue into November and possibly even beyond—until the county’s positive COVID-19 case numbers drop to fewer than 50 cases per week per 100,000 residents.
That was the unanimous vote of Monroe County’s board of health at its Thursday meeting.
The current regulation goes through the end of October. In the current regulation, a drop in positive case numbers below 50 cases per week per 100,000 residents is also a condition tied to an end to the mask mandate.
Responding to an emailed question from The B Square, county health administrator Penny Caudill said the exact wording of the new regulation was not yet determined.
The Aug. 5 mask mandate says that when community spread of the COVID-19 pandemic is high in Monroe County, as determined by state metrics, everyone “must wear a face shield, face covering, or mask…over their nose and mouth when in an indoor public place and shall at all times, follow current CDC guidelines in every situation.”
A time has now been set for a ruling on the appeal filed by Seven Oaks Classical School of its mask mandate citation from the Monroe County board of health: Thursday, Sept. 23 at 3 p.m.
The county’s mask mandate is a health order that is intended to help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic virus.
It’s the three-member board of county commissioners that heard the appeal on Monday, and that will now render the decision on Thursday.
The scheduling announcement came around noon Wednesday at the end of the county commissioners work session, which followed their regular Wednesday morning meeting. From a procedural point of view, the board is continuing its work session until Thursday.
Whether it will be extended into October will be decided at the next meeting of the county’s board of health, which is now set for 3:30 p.m. on Sept. 22.
That would allow time for the county’s board of commissioners to ratify the local regulation at its regular Wednesday morning on Sept. 29, if a decision is made to extend the mandate.
Based on discussion at Wednesday’s board of health meeting, there’s a possibility that the mask mandate will not be extended.
Monroe County health administrator Penny Caudill, county health officer Thomas Sharp, and county attorney Margie Rice asked board of health members to weigh the benefits of the mask mandate compared to the energy it takes to enforce it.
The energy that goes into enforcing the mask mandate might be used better to promote vaccination, they said.
On Wednesday at least some board of health members did not sound inclined to alter the mandate, certainly not that day. They pointed to the mask mandate as possibly one of the reasons that the community spread of the pandemic in Monroe County, as measured in the state’s color-coded system for counties, is one of the lowest in the state.
Still it was apparent they were receptive at least to the possibility of letting the mask mandate expire, depending on what the numbers look like two weeks from now, even if Monroe County is not “blue.”
On Wednesday, Monroe County scored yellow in the four-color system of: blue, yellow, orange, and red.
The Monroe County health order comes after last week’s new guidance on mask-wearing for the fully vaccinated from the Centers for Disease Control. The guidance applies to counties where there is “substantial” or “high” transmission of the virus. That’s a criterion that currently applies to Monroe County.
Not under the county’s jurisdiction, but also following the CDC’s new guidance on masks, is Indiana University.
Sign boards typically used for traffic alerts are being used to remind patrons of Kirkwood Avenue establishments to wear masks. The streetis closed to automobile traffic, to help restaurants do more business than they would, if inside dining were the only option.
“While it feels like COVID may be behind us, in many ways it’s not,” IU Health’s south central region president Brian Shockney said at Friday’s weekly press conference of local leaders.
Shockney added: “The best way that you can choose to help ensure our communities don’t see another surge is to make the choice to get your vaccine.”
The importance of continuing to wear a face covering, despite the ending of the statewide mask mandate, was another talking point on Friday.
Bloomington’s director of public engagement, Mary Catherine Carmichael, said about the local decision by the Monroe County board of health to continue the mask regulations: “We’re going to stick with this. We know we’re not out of the woods.”
Carmichael also encouraged restaurant patrons not to put servers in the position of playing the role of the “mask police.” She said, “Obviously, these are businesses that have signage on the doors, letting folks know…you will be expected to wear a mask. So we just ask everybody to please mind those rules. Continue to wear those masks.”
The county board of health has contracted with Security Pro 24/7 to enforce the local health regulations. That contract goes through July 1.