ELKHART — A meeting of the Elkhart County Board of Health was scuttled Thursday night after about 50 people showed up to voice their objections to a mask order put in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Board members said they planned to talk about significant progress made since restrictions were put in place in May and the need to continue those efforts to ensure public safety.
Opponents of the mask order, who have attended other local government meetings in smaller numbers in recent weeks, said the board refused to hear their concerns, although health officials said having so many people without masks crowded into the relatively small meeting room made it impossible to conduct business in a safe environment.
Several board members are physicians who see patients with compromised immune systems every day and could not responsibly enter the room, officials said.
The meeting was rescheduled as a WebX session that will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday. A link will be available to the public on the Elkhart County website at www.ElkhartCounty Indiana.com.
Public comment will be allowed, as always, the board said.
Cancellation of the meeting overshadowed a presentation the board planned to make announcing progress in the fight against COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus – efforts attributed by health officials in large part to social distancing, face masks worn in public and other restrictions designed to prevent community spread.
The governor on Wednesday lifted some restrictions on public gatherings but extended a state mask order. The local mask has been in place since May.
Hospitalizations, a key metric in measuring the spread of coronavirus, have been dramatically reduced over the past four months in Elkhart County, the board said in a statement released just as the meeting was scheduled to begin.
“The fight is far from over, but this progress is a direct result of our dedicated frontline health care workers, local task forces and the citizens of this region working together,” said Dr. Randy J. Cammenga, chair of the Elkhart County Health Department Board of Directors. “We’ve gone from being described as a ‘hot spot’ in the nation to a place where hospitalizations are down significantly, businesses are back at work and schools are in session.”
Cammenga and fellow board member Josi DeHaven planned to lead the meeting through a review of other metrics that show the coordination required to protect the public is working.
“We still have a lot of work to do,” said DeHaven, who works as a Population Health Manager at Indiana University Goshen Hospital. “But it’s important for everyone to know that this work is having a significant impact in the fight against the virus.”
Cammenga called the effect to prevent the spread of the virus “a long-term battle.”
“But the recent data is strong evidence that we should continue doing everything we can to ensure the safety of every man, woman and child in Elkhart County.”