INDIANAPOLIS — Marion County is making a big change when it comes to keeping people safe during this pandemic. Starting July 9, residents and visitors alike will have to wear a face mask when out in public.
Marion County becomes the fourth Indiana county to make masks mandatory. The others are LaGrange, Elkhart and St. Joseph counties.
"I know many may not agree with this," Mayor Joe Hogsett said in a news conference on Thursday morning. "I know many more will feel inconvenienced by it. This is a major change to what normal means here in Indianapolis."
But he said it's the right thing to do, especially as COVID-19 cases surge in other parts of the country.
Under the new rule, wearing a face mask will be required in public places. This includes office buildings and retail establishments, and when entering restaurants but not while sitting at the table.
Masks will also be required if you're outdoors and unable to maintain social distancing.
The exceptions? Children under two and those with certain medical conditions are not required to wear a mask.
"I don't have sympathy for those who may argue in coming days that this simple, science-driven policy is an unjust burden," the Mayor said.
While several surrounding states including Ohio and Michigan have seen a dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases, Marion County Health Director Dr. Virginia Caine said the numbers in Marion County (the highest in the state) had leveled off due in large part to the phased re-opening and people playing by the rules.
"The past few months have been difficult for our city and we have all made sacrifices," Caine said. "And it's because of the sacrifices that our numbers have improved, and we have avoided a crisis in our hospitals. But the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over."
Health inspectors not police will be charged with enforcing the order.
Caine said while fines are possible, the main goal is to educate people and stress the importance of wearing a mask not just for themselves but their neighbors and colleagues.
As for why the new policy wouldn't begin immediately, especially before the July 4th weekend, the mayor said the July 9 date "allows for businesses and venues to prepare themselves," and "to make sure there's sufficient time for everyone to obtain a mask."
He noted the city is still offering free masks to anyone in need at www.indy.gov/masks.
Dr. Caine also noted that overnight camps must remain closed, that indoor visiting at nursing homes and assisted living facilities remains prohibited and that any event with an anticipated attendance above 1,000 people, such as fairs/festivals, conventions, and sporting events, must submit an event plan for MCPHD approval.
The Mayor said that based on the governor's guidance from Wednesday's news conference, Georgia Street, Broad Ripple Avenue, and Massachusetts Avenue will remain closed off through July 19 to accommodate continued restrictions on restaurant and bar capacity.