ELKHART — Local officials on Wednesday were discussing how a statewide lifting of coronavirus-related restrictions by Gov. Eric Holcomb on April 6 might affect limits in Elkhart County.
Health Officer Dr. Bethany Wait and other local officials met Wednesday morning to discuss how to move forward, but Wait would not answer questions afterward. Her office said she planned to hold a news conference Friday.
Elkhart County Board of Commissioners President Suzie Weirick, R-3, told reporters Tuesday that “since the county’s mask mandate is tied to (the governor’s), ours will also be rescinded the same day.”
However, Public Health Order 05-2020, which is the Elkhart County face-covering directive, does not say that it is tied to the governor’s mask mandate, and it specifically states that the county health officer decides when the order is to be lifted.
“This Order will remain in effect until rescinded by the Elkhart County Local Health Officer,” Order 05-2020 says.
Holcomb in his address Tuesday said local officials still have the authority to impose tougher restrictions than the state.
Weirick, in an interview Wednesday, said her comment referred to Public Health Order 06-2020, which was enacted by the county Board of Commissioners. That order addresses additional mitigation efforts, such as social distancing, limiting capacity at events and requiring that businesses create COVID-19 safety plans. It also says organizations must follow the mask mandate in Order 05-2020.
But, like Order 05-2020, Order 06-2020 spells out that Wait decides when the restrictions are rescinded, and it specifically says they are not tied to the governor’s orders.
“This Order is independent of and may continue beyond the current Indiana State Executive Orders addressing similar matters,” Order 06-2020 says.
After hearing exactly what Order 06-2020 says on ties to the governor’s order and Wait’s power to decide when it is rescinded, Weirick said she may have had her information wrong and would need to talk to the county’s attorney.
“Regardless if it’s right or wrong, I do think that the commissioners still need to look at removing or retaining their ordinance one way or another, and we don’t like to go stricter than the governor. But we haven’t had time to digest it,” she said.
Though Weirick wants mask requirements gone by April 6, she encouraged people to wear masks in public, maintain social distance and get vaccinated.
Weirick said she will listen to Wait since she is a medical professional. The commissioner said she is guessing that Wait will be hesitant to rescind any orders, especially since Elkhart County’s coronavirus outbreak is not getting better while other parts of the state are.
The county’s positive test rate rose from 5 percent to 7 percent in the past week, though infections and deaths remain stable at some of the lowest levels since the beginning of the pandemic. The more transmissible B.1.1.7 coronavirus variant was discovered in the county this month.
Order 06-2020 was amended earlier this month to align more with the governor’s executive orders in the sense that restrictions on capacity at events and gatherings became tied to the governor’s orders. As a consequence of that, the county’s capacity restrictions will also be lifted on April 6.
Wait previously said she could not imagine she would rescind the mask mandate in the near future, while she was more open to getting rid of other restrictions sooner.