The Elkhart County Health Department, in a directive issued Friday night, strongly encourages wearing face masks, though the guidelines fall short of the sort of mask mandates established elsewhere. Also, on Saturday, the Indiana State Department of Health confirmed more than 100 new infections in Elkhart County, the most reported yet in a single day.

The county health department published a three-page document on its Facebook page explaining when face coverings should be used and who does or doesn’t need to wear them. It encourages people to wear a covering over their nose and mouth when they are at an indoor area that’s open to the public, including public transportation, or at an outdoor public area or indoor private area where a 6-foot distance from other people can’t be maintained.

The intent of the guidelines is to ensure the public recognizes the importance of wearing masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19, officials said. Wearing masks is strongly recommended because the virus is carried by respiratory droplets and may be spread by infected individuals with or without symptoms, and possibly even by those who will never display symptoms despite being positive.

“This guidance is issued based on evidence of increasing occurrences of COVID-19 within Elkhart County and our awareness that individuals in Elkhart County currently do not often wear face coverings in public,” states the directive, which is signed by county Health Officer Dr. Lydia Mertz. “This guidance is issued based on scientific evidence and best practices regarding the most effective approaches to slow the transmission of communicable diseases generally and COVID-19 specifically.”

Commissioner Mike Yoder on Saturday said the health department’s action doesn’t represent a change in the county’s position but an effort to clarify when masks should be used. “Our effort now is to increase communication of the importance of wearing masks, but also, from what we hear in the community, there was significant confusion about when you should and when you don’t have to,” he said. “This order, in my mind, does a couple things. It reiterates the importance of mask wearing and helps clarify when it’s appropriate and when it’s not necessary.”

Yoder said county officials may also consider a recommendation against gatherings of more than 50 people, which would be a departure from the state’s new limit of 250 people after the move into Phase 4 of the reopening plan. He observed that contact tracing has shown social gatherings have contributed more to the spread of COVID-19 in Elkhart County than contact in the workplace.

“The increased percentage of positives are coming not from the workplace, but are coming from out in the community,” he said. “Community activities: family gatherings, social gatherings. That’s where the spread is happening at this point.”

The latest report from the Indiana Department of Health on Saturday showed 104 new cases of COVID-19 in Elkhart County, all but one from Friday. The total of 103 new cases is the highest number yet for a single day since 88 cases were reported on June 4. 

That brings the total number of cases in the county to 2,030, the fourth highest total among all counties in Indiana and just behind Allen County, which had 2,168. 

No additional deaths were reported in the county, leaving that total at 32.

Source: Elkhart Truth, June 13, 2020