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ISDH: Masks should be worn by all (age 2 and up) while indoors, regardless of vax status — but no mandate enacted

INDIANAPOLIS (WPTA21) - Indiana health officials on Friday urged all Hoosiers age 2 and up to resume wearing masks at indoor public places -- including at school -- but stopped short of ordering such action.

In a briefing from Indianapolis, Dr. Kristina Box and Dr. Lindsay Weaver pointed to an upswing in COVID-19 cases across the state and highlighted concerns fueled by the Delta variant of the virus.

Though they recommend a return to the use of masks, regardless of vaccination status, they said school districts will be able to determine policy individually.

Administrators must notify ISDH of any positive test results involving students or staff. They said they have begun to see an increase in COVID-19 cases involving children.

Classes in most local districts will begin in the next two weeks.

ABC21 has reached out to the four school corporations in Allen County for their reaction to the recommendation.

Fort Wayne Community Schools provided the following statement: At this point, administrators need to review the latest guidance and determine if any changes to our original plan will be made. We are still more than two weeks away from the first day of school for students so we want to take the time to review the newest information.

A representative of East Allen County Schools said masks are still "optional for the start of the 2021-22 school year," barring any policy changes determined by the Board.

Southwest Allen County Schools said its administration is aware of the ISDH recommendation, and "at this time, SACS is planning to follow its Board approved Return to the Classroom plan shared on July 14. Masks are recommended in our buildings."

Northwest Allen County provided the following: Northwest Allen County Schools recently updated its COVID mitigation plan to include being mask optional for the 2021-22 school year. This board-adopted plan was approved prior to the CDC’s new recommendations, therefore, we have not yet discussed how the new guidelines will impact the start of our school year.

The CDC -- like ISDH -- is suggesting masks be worn at school.

Statewide, six more deaths have been recorded, bringing the total since the start of the pandemic to 13,576.

The daily positivity rate continues to climb, as well, and stands at 6.8 percent (7-day average) for all tests administered.

Three northeast Indiana counties -- Huntington, DeKalb and Steuben -- are among those in "orange" status, indicating the second-highest level of concern.

No Indiana counties have reached the "red" category, with the greatest rates of COVID-19 infection.

Box said she was not currently considering placing restrictions on public gatherings. "I never take anything off the table, but that has not been under discussion," she said.

She again touted the value of vaccinations in reducing the spread of the virus and limiting its impact.

The overwhelming majority of those hospitalized with COVID-19 are unvaccinated.

New evidence shows the Delta variant is almost as contagious as chickenpox and measles, meaning infected persons can typically infect approximately eight others. 

Box stressed that anyone who comes in contact with a person who has tested positive for COVID-19 should get tested, even those who have been fully vaccinated.

ISDH says 96 percent of deaths in Indiana involve unvaccinated patients.

The Allen County Health Department on Friday issued its own reminder of the importance of COVID-19 vaccinations.

Jonathan Shelley

Jonathan Shelley is the news director at WPTA TV, which he joined in 2016 following nine years in a similar role in New Orleans and previous news management positions in Oklahoma City and Las Vegas.

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