South Bend Tribune
SOUTH BEND — St. Joseph County public health officials Monday, June 29, extended their mask order through Sept. 7, while Elkhart County decided to implement a similar order.
Dr. Robert Einterz, St. Joseph County’s public health officer, signed the new order after consulting with representatives from the county’s three largest health systems, Beacon, Saint Joseph and South Bend Clinic.
“Given that there is no vaccine or medication available to prevent or treat COVID-19, measures such as hand hygiene, physical distancing and wearing face coverings are the most effective strategies to reduce the spread of respiratory droplets from infected persons to uninfected person,” the new order states.
The mask order was due to expire Saturday. It requires face coverings for all people inside businesses and enclosed public spaces where social distancing of at least six feet can’t be maintained. Like the first order, it exempts people who can’t wear face coverings for health reasons but goes further by specifying examples of those conditions, including people with “respiratory conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive lung disease; severe anxiety; autism; cerebral palsy; two years of age or younger.”
The order also requires businesses to have hand sanitizer available at entrances for customers.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the main purpose of wearing a cloth face covering is not to protect oneself, but to avoid spreading the virus to others; people infected with the virus may not show symptoms for several days.
Health officials in St. Joseph County have credited the mask order with helping contain the county’s infection rate, which has remained lower than some nearby counties, including Elkhart. St. Joseph County has recorded more than 1,800 COVID-19 cases and 65 deaths.
The order cites state law that gives county health departments the power to act to control the spread of communicable diseases.
The county health department has documented nearly 70 violations of the order by businesses since it took effect May 4, according to a Tribune analysis of public records.
Also on Monday, Elkhart County’s health officer, Dr. Lydia Mertz, citing a strain on local health care resources, announced a new mask order, to go into effect Tuesday. Mertz did not place an end date on the order, saying on the department’s website that she will lift it when the “county’s positive case data, hospitalization census and ICU bed availability support lifting the order.”
Face coverings will be required when 6-foot social distancing can’t be maintained indoors and in outdoor public areas. Also, all employees and customers in local businesses must wear masks.
The county, which has nearly 3,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and 42 deaths, ranking third among Indiana’s 92 counties in total cases despite ranking sixth in population.
Elkhart County has seen a surge in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks but officials had previously resisted enacting a mask order.
SOURCE: HSPA InfoNet