Changes to public health guidelines; a path back to normalcy

NOW: Changes to public health guidelines; a path back to normalcy

ST. JOSEPH COUNTY, Ind. --- The state-wide mask mandate in Indiana expired, becoming an advisory on Tuesday. County health officials still have the authority to require residents to mask up, even if the state does not.

St. Joseph County Health Officer Dr. Bob Einterz worried that the switch to an advisory comes a little too early in recovery efforts.

“The number of hospitalizations here in St. Joe County have nearly tripled over the last several weeks,” Einterz said. “And so, now is not the time to stop any of the mitigation measures that we put into place.”

President Biden also announced Tuesday that every adult in the US will be eligible for the vaccine by April 19. The new deadline comes two weeks earlier than the original date of May 1.

“If other states are doing as well, or almost as well as Indiana is, then I’m glad that more people will have access to the vaccine,” Einterz said.

Despite millions of Americans getting vaccinated every day, health experts warn not to get too caught up in the race back to normalcy. The CDC released guidelines stating fully vaccinated Americans can now travel, but health experts emphasized masks are still key in preventing another surge.

“We wear masks not to protect ourselves, but rather to protect others who might not have been vaccinated yet,” Einterz said.

With the mask mandate now just a recommendation in the Hoosier state, it is up to county health officials and even business owners to make the final decision. In St. Joseph County, masks are still required until May 27, unless you can be sure everyone in a space has been either fully vaccinated or previously infected and recovered. However, there really is no way to be sure to verify this, according to Einterz.

“The default for all of us should be that we should continue to wear a mask for the time being,” Einterz said. “If we happen to be in an office or in an environment or an establishment or any sort, where we do know the other individuals and all individuals are willing to acknowledge that they have either been infected before or have had the vaccine—don’t wear a face covering.”

While health experts do not want people to race back to normal, Americans are on the path back to it. Fully vaccinated Americans are at a minimal risk and should feel much more freedom in going about normal activities, according to Einterz.

“Individuals who have been vaccinated should feel very comfortable being around other individuals who have been vaccinated, and to do so without wearing any face coverings,” Einterz.

When it comes to rules on venue capacity and gatherings, event planners in St. Joseph County are not required to submit anything to the health department as of Tuesday as the county sits in the yellow advisory zone.

Dr. Einterz expects Michiana to return to a large degree of normalcy by the end of May.

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