The Shelby County Board of Commissioners passed a resolution Monday morning that will re-implement masks in county office buildings and schools.
The mandate becomes effective Tuesday, Sept. 14 at 8 a.m.
The resolution came following a request from Health Department Director Rob Lewis to issue a public health order. Lewis told The Shelbyville News a couple weeks ago that he thought this was the second best thing people can do to bring down Covid cases.
Indiana State Senate Bill 5, recently passed by the state legislature, requires Lewis to get approval of the commissioners before instituting any kind of public health order, hence Lewis’ appearance at Monday’s meeting
The decision to mandate masks came not just at Lewis’ recommendation, but also at the recommendation of the county’s health board and Major Health Partners.
“If we could get more people vaccinated, we wouldn’t have to do this,” Lewis said. “I think we need to take the lead on this, to show that we’re unanimous that this needs to be done to help the spread of the Covid virus.”
Despite Lewis push for unanimity, the commissioners approved the resolution 2-1. Don Parker voting against the mandate, stating he wasn’t comfortable requiring others to wear masks.
“I’m not sure this is correct,” Parker said. “As far as myself, I’ve got the shots. If there’s a booster shot coming out, I’ll get it. I encourage my family to get it. I wear a protective mask when indicated I need to have one. I use sanitizers when I feel I need to be. Here at the county offices, we put in plastic [barriers] to protect workers. I think we’ve made significant movement in that direction to protect our workers. I want to set a good example, I try to, and I don’t have problems with parents sending their children to school with masks if that’s what they wish to do. But I find it very difficult for myself to tell somebody else ‘This is what you must do.’”
The mandate only covers county office buildings and county schools. Lewis said he wanted to give businesses the freedom to choose whether or not they require masks in their buildings.
“The businesses, we hope they follow our lead, and a lot of them are now,” Lewis said. “You’re seeing that more because businesses have closed because of quarantining. If we could get people to wear a mask, they won’t have to quarantine.”
This is on point with the governor’s most recent executive order regarding Covid quarantining policies in schools. According to the order, if a close contact in school is wearing a mask when exposed to Covid, they do not have to quarantine.
“I’m trying to be fair about it by not mandating it across all businesses,” Lewis said.
As far as schools go, children will be required to wear masks any time they are indoors, regardless of whether or not they are vaccinated or socially distancing, Lewis said, answering questions from members of the public following the meeting.
“The [health] board is very adamant this needs to be done to help with children and the hospital,” Lewis said.
Lewis said the schools have asked for a mask mandate. He also said he’s gotten calls from parents asking if a mandate would be implemented.
“We’re getting calls, ‘Why aren’t we wearing mask?’” Lewis said. “We’re getting more than a handful, we’re getting hundreds: ‘My kid’s been home for 14 days, when are they going to require masks? I gotta go to work, I gotta take off work because my kids aren’t wearing masks. They’d be in school if they were wearing masks.’”
This lead to discussion about whether or not school districts had the ability to implement their own mask mandates. They do, but Lewis said school administrators fear the backlash they may receive if they implement a mask mandate.
“We can help them with the tools so they can place the blame on us,” Lewis said. “It makes it easier for them.”
Shelby County is at a 15 percent positivity rate, and the hospital is full.
“The whole situation comes down to the hospital,” Commissioner Chris Ross said. “[MHP Major Hospital President] Jack Horner made that very clear when he spoke to us Wednesday, but we also got out of that conversation the hospital highly recommended the schools follow this policy.
“Not everybody is going to agree on the direction to go,” he added. “I think the bigger point here is the plea to the public – however you do it personally to bring this under control. It doesn’t make any difference how you feel on it. The hospital is full. Emergency Care Services, if you have to go in there, [you might] not get service. We need to help as a community to bring it down.”
Commissioner Kevin Nigh agreed with Ross, stating this was a good place to start.
The resolution is set to expire Oct. 30, unless the commissioners move to end the mandate sooner.