While the city of West Lafayette mandated mask-wearing this week to combat the spread of COVID-19, face coverings still won’t be required in Lafayette and Tippecanoe County, officials said Wednesday.
Tippecanoe County Health Officer Dr. Jeremy Adler said while daily county case numbers have decreased slightly over the past few days, those tallies remain higher than those of a month ago. The Indiana State Department of Health reported three COVID-19 cases on June 15; today it reported 10. The county’s case total hit 802 on Wednesday.
“Because of this, it’s very important for all of us to take the appropriate actions now so that we can keep this curve moving in the right direction, downward, and not going back upwards,” Adler said. “So that means all of us need to be wearing our face coverings when we’re in public, especially in situations where social distancing is not easy to accomplish.”
Adler also said businesses should be implementing policies that require staff and customers to wear masks.
Lafayette Mayor Tony Roswarski -- who said he would continue to watch the county’s COVID-19 data -- said decisions driven by citizens, and not by government, create “long-term better outcomes and long-term better solutions.”
“I would much prefer that citizens, if at all possible -- until it’s just not possible -- be allowed to make their own decisions,” Roswarski said. “And I would like businesses to be able to make their own decisions.”
“For me, it is an issue of enforcement,” said Tippecanoe County Commissioner Tracy Brown, who stressed he and the other commissioners support wearing masks. “Who do we have to enforce that effort? Is that going to fall on the shoulders of law enforcement or our health department, which are already taxed beyond belief with just their normal day-to-day calls?”
West Lafayette’s mask mandate will be enforced by the city’s Neighborhood Resource Team, and violators will be fined. Roswarski took issue with that rule.
“From a personal level, I’m just not in favor of fining people,” Roswarski said. “We’ve got a lot of people that are struggling to make rent, make their house payment, pay their utility bills, buy their groceries, pay for prescriptions, and us throwing another fine on that somehow during this just feels wrong in my heart.”
West Lafayette Mayor John Dennis said feedback he’d received from West Lafayette residents showed “overwhelming” support for a mask mandate. He also said the city was aligning itself with Purdue University's face covering requirements.
“I stand by my decision,” Dennis said. “And I know that my partners are by my side, if not necessarily in agreement with me. But we need to do something to turn this around, and Dr. Adler has made this abundantly clear: two of the biggest things that you can do is social distancing, and if you can’t do that, is to wear a mask. The numbers are trending the wrong way. They’re going up. There’s things we need to do as local elected officials to do the right thing.”
Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb announced Wednesday Indiana will not move to Stage 5 of the state's reopening plan, which was scheduled for this weekend. There is still no statewide mask mandate.