Masks in Schools?

Indiana Health Commissioner Kris Box

(INDIANAPOLIS) – State health officials won’t order schools to require masks. But they’re strongly recommending schools do it on their own.

Health commissioner Kris Box says local officials have sent a clear message they want their own decision-making authority, and the state will give it to them. She says health officials have provided Hoosiers the information they need, and access to the most powerful weapon against the virus: the vaccine.

But Box says the state needs multiple layers of protection until vaccination rates are high enough to break the back of the pandemic. She’s urging schools to follow Centers for Disease Control guidance and require masks.

The C-D-C updated its recommendations after research showed the Delta variant, which now accounts for nearly all Indiana infections, carries a much heavier viral load and can be transmitted to others even by people who have been vaccinated. Box says masks are important to ensure schools can continue to hold classes in person with minimal disruptions.

While Indiana has documented nearly four-thousand infections among fully vaccinated people, 98-percent of COVID hospitalizations have been unvaccinated patients. Box notes elementary school students are still too young to be vaccinated, and vaccination rates among teenagers are just 28-percent — half the rate among Hoosiers over 50.

Some school districts, including the Indianapolis Public Schools and Zionsville, have announced they’ll require masks. The Hamilton County Health Department says it won’t issue a mask requirement. But the department is joining the state in urging local school boards to do it.

Some states are seeing a surge in hospitalizations among teenagers. Box says that may just reflect the Delta variant causing more cases, period. But she says the advancing spread is reason enough to use every available tool until the virus is contained. Otherwise, she says, “It will continue to mutate, and we will constantly be playing Whac-a-Mole for the foreseeable future. I personally do not want to play games with Hoosiers’ lives.”