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County Commissioners Not “In The Business” Of Mandates As Covid-19 Cases Spike

Emilie Syberg
Tippecanoe County Commissioner Tom Murtaugh speaks at a COVID-19 press briefing Wednesday, Aug. 4.

At the Tippecanoe County Board of Health meeting Wednesday morning, County Commissioner Tracy Brown told board members that it wouldn’t be possible to “mandate our way out” of the pandemic.

Tippecanoe County Health Officer Dr. Jeremy Adler reported a COVID-19 positivity rate of over nine percent and a vaccination rate of just 47 percent of the total county population. 

Board members weighed urging local schools to institute a mask mandate, and ultimately decided to send a letter to both private and public school corporations in the county. 

After board members wondered whether county commissioners would be willing to sign on to a letter requesting a mask mandate, Brown stood up and told the board he would not sign such a letter. After the meeting, Brown said people should be able to choose for themselves whether to mask or get vaccinated.

“To think that we can mandate our way through this is just folly,” he said.

Brown said he’s not comfortable with health experts making decisions for people about their health. 

“I think you have to be really careful if you’re using that as your beacon, your guiding light,” he said. “You better be right.”

After the passage of SB5 earlier this year, any community-wide health mandates stricter than the governor’s need to be signed off on or instituted by city and county officials - not health officials. 

That point was repeatedly stressed by Adler during a press conference later Wednesday afternoon. After underlining the importance of vaccines and masking as the delta variant drives a rise in local COVID cases, he emphasized that any mask mandate will need to be approved by commissioners. 

“Any kind of orders or mandates that would apply to restaurants or establishments would require the approval of county commissioners,” he said. “I don’t think we’re at that point quite yet.”

Hospital officials from both IU Health Arnett and Franciscan Health underlined that staff were tired and overworked and emergency rooms - not just in Tippecanoe County but across the state - were already full. 

Dr. Daniel Wickert, Vice President of Medical Affairs of Franciscan Health, said it’s challenging for staff to head back into another surge. 

“They worked extra. They have not taken vacations. They have not been with their family. They are exhausted,” he said. “They are challenged by ‘do I want to keep doing this?’” 

Commissioner Tom Murtaugh ended the briefing by saying the county is not currently at the point of instituting a mask mandate, but urged residents to get vaccinated. 

“The vaccines are safe and effective,” he said. “It’s the only way we’re going to possibly prevent that we’ll go back to a mandate.”