New COVID-19 Directives Raise Concerns Among Some Local Health Officials

Mar 24, 2021

Credit (Screenshot of Facebook Live)

Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb announced Tuesday the state will open vaccine eligibility to anyone over age 16 on March 31, and end the statewide mask mandate April 6, raising concern among some local health officials.

St. Joseph County Deputy Health Officer Dr. Mark Fox said local officials weren’t expecting the mask order to end and vaccine eligibility to open so close together. 

 

He says it would be safer if the state waited to end the mask mandate until after a significant portion of the population is vaccinated, especially with more contagious variants circulating in the state and county.

 

“If you miss the mark, we’re right back where we were [at the] end of September, when he opened things up too aggressively to really significant and devastating consequences,” Fox said.

 

Fox said he's also concerned about the governor's announcement that bars and restaurants will no longer be required to keep patrons seated or spaced six feet apart.

 

"Again, until an adequate proportion of the population is protected, that seems like a risky endeavor," he said.

 

The governor’s order does leave room for local officials to impose more stringent measures. Fox said St. Joseph County officials are still in discussions about whether to renew the county’s face mask order, which is set to expire at the end of the month.

 

Elkhart County also has its own face mask order, which is independent of the governor’s order and can only be rescinded by the county health officer. 

 

A spokesperson from the Elkhart County Health Department said officials are still having conversations and collecting data, but they expect to give an update on the county’s plan by Friday. 

 

Fox said the state's move to open vaccine eligibility is largely "political theatre," and that local vaccine sites won't be able to offer more appointments unless the state provides them more support.

 

"My fear is – at least, as it stands now – if we open up eligibility, it's going to leave a lot of people frustrated," he said. "It's going to push their access to an appointment out an unacceptable length of time."

 

Fox said state officials have called a meeting with the local health departments for Thursday afternoon, where he hopes they will announce plans for extra vaccine infrastructure.

 

Contact Gemma at gdicarlo@wvpe.org or follow her on Twitter at @gemma_dicarlo.

 

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