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Monroe County Reinstates Mask Mandate Indoors, IU Follows Suit

IU students both wearing and not wearing masks inside Memorial Union. (Alex Paul, WFIU/WTIU News)

The Monroe County Board of Commissioners officially renewed the local mask mandate Wednesday morning. It applies to everybody, regardless of vaccination status, inside public places.

There are no additional restrictions being placed on establishments such as gathering size limits or a required six feet of distance between individuals.

 

"We feel like this is the least restrictive, but yet meets CDC guidance and our current situation," said county health administrator Penny Caudill.  

Surging COVID-19 cases, stagnant vaccination rates, and the spread of the easily transmissible Delta variant contributed to the decision to reinstate the policy. 

Monroe County re-entered the "Yellow" advisory on the state’s COVID-19 dashboard last week, reporting 58 cases per 100,000 residents. According to Wednesday's most recent data, that number is now at 97 cases.

Caudill said it is inevitable that the county will be in "Orange" by next week, which is more than 100 cases per 100,000 residents. 

"We are hoping that this intervention will actually get us out of this much quicker than waiting until we are in the Orange or the Red," said Caudill.  

Fifty-seven percent of the county's total population eligible for the vaccine is fully vaccinated, while the seven-day positivity rate is now at 9 percent.  

The Delta variant has accounted for 87.2 percent of COVID testing samples statewide in the last month, according to Indiana Department of Health data. 

READ MORE: As The Delta Variant Spreads, Focus Shifts To Unvaccinated Hoosiers

Caudill said that is about a 400 percent increase since May when Delta was found in less than 1 percent of positive cases.  

"Right now, the vaccine is effective against the variants, but if we continue to grow new ones, that may not be the case," said Caudill.  

Breakthrough cases among fully vaccinated people have been heavily linked to Delta and were the leading reason the CDC decided to update its masking recommendations. 

"High viral loads suggest an increased risk of transmission and raised concern that, unlike with other variants, vaccinated people infected with Delta can transmit the virus," said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky in a statement last Friday. "The masking recommendation was updated to ensure the vaccinated public would not unknowingly transmit virus to others, including their unvaccinated or immunocompromised loved ones." 

Indiana University has also updated its masking policy for people inside campus buildings. 

The county's mask mandate will officially go into effect at 8 a.m. Thursday Aug. 5 in order to allow businesses to repost or acquire new signs that inform customers they need to wear masks.  

Free signs are available and in three ways:

  1. Pick up in-person from the Board of Commissioners' office on the third floor of the Monroe County Courthouse
  2. Contact Downtown Bloomington, Inc. 
  3. Download and print from the Monroe County Health Department's website

"Our enemy is COVID. It is not the mask order, and it is not people who are unvaccinated because there are people who cannot get vaccinated due to their age or their health status," said county commissioner Julie Thomas.  

Caudill said she expects the mandate to continue for at least the next four to six weeks, pending future spikes in cases and no improvement in the local vaccination rate. 

"This order has kind of a sunset date of Sept. 30. Unless the Board of Health comes back and looks at data and decides to extend it or make some changes, it would expire then," said Caudill. 

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