From mandate to advisory: What the new mask protocol means for Vigo County residents

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TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV) — It’s been a 14-month battle for Vigo County officials trying to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Under newly passed guidelines, officials from the Vigo County Health Department, County Commissioners, and Mayor Duke Bennett say the county has reached a point to begin some sense of normalcy.

Masks in Vigo County will be reduced to an advisory level April 6, following along with the state recommendations.

Residents will now have the choice to wear or not wear masks in public places. This decision comes after Gov. Eric Holcomb’s newest guidelines for COVID-19 in the state of Indiana.

“It feels good. It feels so good we want to maintain that and still strongly encourage people to do those mitigation strategies that helped us get here,” Joni Wise, Administrator for the Vigo County Health Department said.

With age eligibility for the vaccine expanding and Vigo County seeing less than 20 new positive COVID-19 cases in the past two days, Wise said applying them locally came after heavy discussion.

“It was kind of like a teeter totter. You’re looking at the safety of the community and you’re looking at the businesses that suffered horribly due to COVID-19. It’s about finding that good balance between the two so we could continue moving in a positive direction,” Wise said.

Masks will still be required in schools, hospitals, and state buildings. As for businesses, owners will be able to decide mask requirements and implement social distancing in their facilities.

As long as counties are in a “blue” level advisory, capacity limits will be established by the state Fire Marshal.

For Terre Haute resident Grace Willman, it’s a decision that new guidelines passed comes with mixed feelings.

“Personally, I will wear a mask when I enter places of business. That’s my own personal choice. I can’t control what other people do, that’s up to them,” Willman said.

Officials with the state of Indiana will continue to provide Coronavirus color coded metrics, Wise said they will closely monitor that data.

Dr. Darren Brucken’s original statement is provided below.

VIGO COUNTY, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV) — Vigo County will downgrade its mask mandate to a mask advisory next week, health commissioner Dr. Darren Brucken said in a statement Wednesday:

After collaborative discussions between the Vigo County Health Department, County Commissioners, and Mayor Duke Bennett, the county has elected to move forward in following the changes set forth by Governor Holcomb, currently set to take effect after April 6, 2021, in regards to indoor capacity guidelines, restaurant capacity and seating restrictions, and in downgrading the mask mandate to a “mask advisory” status.

Most notably, the issue with masking creates the most stir amongst the public.  Please remember this simple statement: Masks will continued to be advised to be worn by all Hoosiers-including us in Vigo County, as we move ahead through the CoVID-19 pandemic.  

As the original mandate expires, every resident in Vigo County will continue to not only have the opportunity to, but will be advised to wear masks. The choice remains with each of us.  Business owners have the opportunity to continue masking within their businesses, particularly with requiring employees to remain masked.  Businesses that continue to follow distancing guidelines and masking should be applauded for their continued observance of the pandemic, and its devastating effects it has reaped on our families, our city, and our county.  Just as well, businesses that elect to alter their mitigation policies will be allowed to do so, based on the Governor’s guidance, and should not be called into question nor brought to judgement.  Area schools, hospitals, and all State buildings will continue to enforce masking and mitigation policies in Vigo County, as will many businesses. 

The mitigation strategies of masking and social distancing has allowed us to reach this point of tremendous opportunity to begin to experience again some sense of normalcy. These measures, coupled with the vaccination of our older population and the continued rollout of vaccines, have allowed us to see declining deaths and hospitalizations in the Wabash Valley.  Many people argue they do not feel the timing is appropriate to abandon these strategies at this time.  Many people do not yet feel safe to travel about freely amongst an unmasked and lax society.  The choice to do so remains with the individual. Everyone is being advised to continue masking, being diligent in decision-making, and helping keep us safe from a potential setback, just as we are seeing the promise of a near-normal tomorrow.  

The vaccinations are highly effective, but not perfect.  Furthermore, not every eligible individual has elected to receive the vaccine.  Unvaccinated individuals still remain very vulnerable to the effects of the virus, and can continue to propagate the spread of the virus within the community.  Each of our long term care facilities in the county have been vaccinated at this point, and the promise of vaccine eligibility of everyone 16 years and older is fast-approaching.  Of the positive cases we are still seeing in our emergency rooms every day, they are all of unvaccinated individuals.  It is crucial that all Vigo County residents seek out the vaccine to help slow this process even further. The vaccines work; they are available, free of charge, and they are safe. Vaccines remain the key step in defeating this pandemic.

This year has also shown us communities divided over race issues, hate, and political divide.  We will soon be moving forward with freedoms being bestowed upon all of to make choices to help one another, and to continue to help ourselves. Many of us will choose to continue masking and to continue to distance from others outside of our circles.  Many of us will choose not to mask after April 6, and to move more freely throughout the community.  The most important issue to keep reminding ourselves of is that either plan is acceptable- it’s okay, and that “choices of others lay with others”-meaning to not be judgmental or harsh towards anyone making their own personal choices for themselves and their families.  There is no place for argument, disdain, or confrontation within our community over the matter.  All of us have the opportunity to continue to mask and to continue to offer mitigation efforts by our own actions of distancing and avoiding crowds and indoor spaces.  By the same token, all of us will be allowed to move about unmasked in many places within the community.  We will find ways to continue to find the best path through the uncertainty as we move ahead.  Please be respectful of the opinions and actions of others, and expect the same of others toward your own opinions.  The responsibility remains with each of us to continue to make sound choices and reasonable decisions with our actions- to help the community continue to battle this infectious disease pandemic that has seen millions perish from our earth in the past 14 months.  Please stay patient, stay diligent, and do your part for this community as we move forward over the next weeks. 

The VCHD, County Commissioners, and Mayor Bennett will continue to monitor the local data metrics as we transition through different stages of this process.  While none of us want to retreat or go backwards, any significant increase in local cases can still bring about additional restrictions locally.  As stated, initially we plan to move forward with following the recommendations passed down from the State level, but remain committed to following local trends in cases and hospitalizations, allowing any worrisome developments to adjust our stance moving forward.  As we enter this next phase, please stay safe, please be respectful of others, and do your part to keep our County safe. 

Darren Brucken, MD 

Vigo County Health Commissioner

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