Holcomb goes a step further in COVID-19 fight

The Tribune

Throughout the pandemic, Gov. Eric Holcomb has taken great pains to be sure his administration’s response to the emergency has been measured.

In part, every step — from the initial shutdown in late March to the Back on Track plan he announced in May — has been done with public reaction in mind. Making restrictions — and the gradual reopening — palatable to Hoosiers has been key to the state’s relative success in tamping down spread of the novel coronavirus.

His latest move will be a test of that strategy.

On July 22, the governor announced he would sign an executive order requiring Hoosiers to wear masks in public indoor spaces and anywhere else distancing is not possible. In making the announcement at his regular weekly briefing on COVID-19, he sounded as if he wished he’d done it much earlier.

With cases and hospitalizations rising statewide, Holcomb made by rule what he could not accomplish by personal plea. His decision to require Hoosiers to wear face coverings — an order that will stay in place until the infection rate flattens or drops — was recognition that we still have a long way to go to fully contain the virus.

Holcomb had no choice.

Statewide, positive cases are being reported at a rate not seen since April. The rolling seven-day average has doubled since late June. Jackson County’s rolling over since June 1 has remained at or below four positive cases per day.

Even after halting the Back on Track plan short of a full reopening of activities, the numbers are simply not trending in the right direction.

It’s true deaths are not rising at the same pace. But as Dr. Jennifer Sullivan, secretary of the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration, noted Wednesday, death is not the only outcome the experts are worried about. Long-term effects of infection for survivors — especially among younger people, who appear to be the new epicenter of illness — are only now beginning to be understood.

Which brought the governor on July 22 somewhere near the intersection of common sense and common courtesy.

He stressed — in an effort to make the order as palatable as possible — that he didn’t arrive at the decision easily. He said he had talked to the governors of hard-hit states, who told him they wished they had done more to keep their citizens safe. Now, it was too late.

The executive order does not carry a criminal penalty for violations, so enforcement will be on the honor system.

Holcomb is counting on people to do the right thing: “Hoosiers have worked hard to help reopen our state, and we want to remain open,” he said, possibly foreshadowing a future move if this doesn’t work. “By masking up, we can and will save lives and slow the spread of COVID-19.”

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