Purdue University and the City of West Lafayette both announced on Friday they will reinstate indoor mask mandates for students, staff, and visitors to campus or city buildings regardless of vaccination status.
In their decision, Purdue officials cited both new guidance from the CDC and concerns about local hospital capacity. Local hospital officials have warned they are already full from a mix of COVID-19 and unrelated illnesses.
“Like everyone we hope the worst of the pandemic is behind us,” said Purdue Chief Medical Officer Dr. Esteban Ramirez in a statement. “But our approach must continue to adapt to changing dynamics, just as we’re seeing cities, corporations, and other institutions do in recent days.”
Across the state COVID-19 cases are spiking higher than they have in months. Tippecanoe County’s Health Officer Dr. Jeremy Adler raised the alarm earlier this week as the county’s positivity rate passed 6 percent, recommending that people begin masking while in indoor public spaces regardless of vaccination status.
Indiana state health officials have avoided reinstating any statewide COVID-19 health restrictions even as cases are spiking because they say that power belongs with elected officials.
Governor Holcomb has so far declined to reinstate a mask mandate - even for schools with students who are largely unvaccinated. That’s put the pressure to decide whether to put health restrictions in place on local elected officials.
West Lafayette Mayor John Dennis said that’s a decision he’s comfortable making.
“I’m a big local control guy. I think that choice should be ours,” he said. “The other side is if they disagree they’ve got somebody right here in town they can go to and yell at. They do it all the time. So I’m pretty big on local control.”
Dennis said the lesson from earlier in the pandemic is that when COVID cases start trending up - it’s time to take aggressive action.
“One thing we learned during the last episode is that a slow response to COVID doesn’t benefit anybody,” he said.
In addition to a mask mandate within city buildings, West Lafayette city employees will be expected to mask at all indoor public settings.
And, Dennis said, he’s considering a vaccine mandate for city employees.
“We’re sort of doing some work - looking at some case law to see if it is a viable option. We’re trying to proceed very cautiously on that,” he said. “That really does get into people’s privacy and their belief systems. Just trying to proceed really cautiously on that.”
West Lafayette’s mask mandate is in effect as of Friday. Purdue’s mandate takes effect as of Monday.
As of last week, Purdue University was reporting that 60 percent of students and 66 percent of staff and faculty had been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The university has so far chosen to use incentives instead of a mandate to get the campus community vaccinated.
A university spokesperson did not respond to our request for comment on whether they were considering a vaccine mandate.