Face mask mandate

The Elkhart County Health Department has issued a new public health order that could carry penalties for repeat violators.

Elkhart County Health Officer Dr. Lydia Mertz writes, “We have been sending out information and warnings to the public as the number of cases has risen, and have been asking the public to do everything they can to slow the spread in Elkhart County. We now need to take decisive action as our numbers continue to spike. Medical experts, and public health experts agree indoor spaces where people gather are high-risk places, especially if masks are not used.”

As of today, anyone age 3 and older in Elkhart County must wear a face covering over their nose and mouth when they are at:

• an indoor area open to the public, including public transportation;

• an outdoor public area where a distance of 6 feet cannot be maintained between individuals outside of their households; or

• a private indoor or outdoor area where a distance of 6 feet cannot be maintained between individuals outside of their household.

The face coverings should preferably be two layers of material and it must fully cover the mouth and nose and is secured snugly against the sides of the face by straps, ear loops or being wrapped around the lower face in a manner to prevent slipping. Reusable face coverings should be washed each day after they are worn and should be completely dry before being worn again, according to the order.

The order also states that all employees and visitors to a business must wear face coverings. All businesses must post at each entrance to their building an English and Spanish version of the Order 05-2020 sign, which is the same as the Order 01-2020 sign. A PDF copy is available at elkhartcountyhealth.org. Plus, businesses are required to follow all of the other restrictions placed by the governor’s executive order.

Those who do not comply could face the penalty of having their business closed or be taken to court.

The Health Department or its designated agents may conduct inspections of businesses and other entities. If a violation is found, the following enforcement steps will be taken:

• The Health Department will issue a written warning outlining the type of noncompliance and provide action steps to help the business come into compliance.

• If noncompliance persists after the written warning, the business can be issued a citation of noncompliance and order the business to take action to obtain compliance.

• And if the business continues to violate the order, the Health Officer may pursue: issuing an order to close the business or refer the matter to legal counsel to enforce the citation and order in a circuit or superior court under Indiana Code 16-20-1-26, with such penalties including suspension or revocation of a license; appropriate remedial actions; vacation of a property; inspections; penalties of up to $2,500 per violation, with each noncompliant action constituting a separate and distinct violation; entering a judgment; and imposing court costs and fees.

There are exemptions, including children who are 2 and younger and if a person has a signed note from their primary licensed physician who states that the person has a medical or mental condition or a disability that prevents them from wearing a face covering. There are several more exceptions. We’ve included those in the online version of this article along with the full order.

Schools that submitted their plans to the Health Department and had them approved will be considered in compliance with the face covering directives, according to the order.

There are other protective measures besides wearing a mask that can help prevent the spread of COVID-19, Mertz stated in the order. They include:

• Washing hands frequently for 20 seconds with soap and water. Use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol when soap and water is not possible.

• Maintain a minimum of 6 feet of distance between each person not in a common household.

• Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.

• Stay home and isolate from other members of a household if sick.

• Avoid sick people.

• Clean frequently touched surfaces often.

• Sneeze and cough in the inside of your elbow or in a tissue.

The order will continue until the health officer rescinds it.

If the public wishes to report a concern regarding violations of this public health order, they may contact the Elkhart County COVID-19 hotline at 574-523-2106. Also, the Health Department will soon release an online form for submitting possible violations, according to Mertz.

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