INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana's governor is giving his support to the growing number of school districts across the state issuing mask mandates for students and staff as they try to head off more COVID-19 outbreaks.
Several of the state's largest school districts in the Indianapolis area began requiring masks for indoor areas on Monday after starting the school year without such requirements. They're responding to an increase in COVID-19 infections among students as the more transmissible delta variant continues surging in the state.
By Aug. 10, all of Indiana fell under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's guidance to mask up indoors, even if you're vaccinated. The guidance only applies to areas with substantial or high amounts of community transmission of COVID-19.
Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb said he wouldn't reinstate a statewide mask mandate instead leaving that up to local authorities, schools and businesses.
Holcomb said schools adopting mask mandates "are making a wise decision when the facts are warranted." And, for many schools, rising virus cases and a staggering amount of kids being forced to quarantine did warrant a return to a mask mandate.
Wayne Township Schools, for example, scrambled to reinstate a facemask after the district had to quarantine 461 students in the first eight days of class. They announced their return to masking on a Tuesday and implemented the mandate the next day.
Another school district shut down one of its schools altogether because of a COVID-19 outbreak that happened after just a week of classes.
More than 60 of the roughly 300 students and staff at Helmsburg Elementary School in Brown County either had the virus, were close contacts, or were absent from school with possible symptoms.
When students at several central Indiana schools returned to class Monday, they too were wearing a mask.
One of those school districts was in Noblesville.
The district released a statement to families and its first sentence mirrored the struggles other districts have detailed in recent statements to students in staff in their districts: "Unfortunately, COVID rates are putting in-person learning, athletics, performing arts, and special events and activities at risk."
This is a theme that led districts across the state to revise masking policies despite being just a few days into the school year.
CDC guidance says if masks are worn in the K-12 indoor classroom setting, then the definition of a close contact changes to exclude students who were within 3 to 6 feet of an infected student, so long as both parties were properly wearing a mask when they came in contact.
For districts like Wayne Township, this is huge. If they require masks then fewer students have to quarantine and the district can focus on keeping kids in the classroom rather than hybrid or remote learning.