Is anyone listening to Holcomb’s advice on masking?

South Bend Tribune

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb doesn’t seem comfortable with his own decision.

On one hand, he announced that it was time for Indiana to lift its mask mandate on April 6, turning it into only an “advisory.” Then he dropped the fact that he intends to keep wearing a mask.

“When I visit my favorite restaurants or conduct a public event, I will continue to appropriately wear a mask,” he said. “It’s the right thing to do.”

If it’s the right thing to do … then why drop the mandate?

If he’s indeed reluctantly lifting the mandate, the reason is obvious. Holcomb didn’t make this decision based on health factors. He did it because of political pressure, as members of his own party have been pushing to rid Indiana of a mask mandate.

But in addition to dropping the mask mandate, Holcomb also announced he was lifting all restrictions on businesses, including seating capacity and social distancing. He’s leaving rules in place for schools through the end of the current academic year. But Indiana is basically returning, all in, to the “old normal” on April 6.

He also left counties across the state in a bind. If they want to continue with their own local mask orders and restrictions, they’re on their own — no backup, no political cover, no help from the state. We doubt that many will stand up to that pressure.

The move comes as COVID news has been positive in recent months: Rates and hospitalizations are dropping. All the indicators are moving in the right direction.

But health experts agree that, although we’re nearing the end of the tunnel, we’re not there yet. You need look no further than Michigan, which is still struggling with the second highest COVID rate per capita in the country and where hospitals are filling up again.

Dropping all orders and restrictions now is a significant risk. Only time will tell if the gamble pays off.

We understand mask fatigue and the anxiety to move on. We know that businesses desperately are trying to recover. Vaccines are becoming widely available. But was there serious harm in waiting a few more weeks?

We’re oh-so-close. A little more patience could have gone a long way to ensuring safety — a little more time for more people to get vaccinated.

And did all restrictions have to be lifted at once? Couldn’t the governor have explored a plan that gradually phased out restrictions? Instead, he’s forced local jurisdictions to scramble and adapt, with little notice.

The onus is now on Indiana residents. You’re going to be asked by state and local leaders to still be careful and to try to maintain health standards. They’ll advise you to keep wearing masks, especially in large groups. They’ll advise you to stay safe. They’ll advise you to keep in mind that we’re not quite done with the pandemic.

We hope Indiana residents heed the advice. But we fear the governor has washed out the message. He may follow his own advice, but how many other Hoosiers will?

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