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Science & Medicine

Local Hospital Sees Increase In COVID Cases As Mask Mandate Set to Expire

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Dr. Jim Bien at a Tippecanoe County COVID press briefing (WBAA News/Ben Thorp)

Tippecanoe County health officials are raising concerns about Indiana lifting its mask mandate on April 6th. 

  

This comes as at least one local hospital is beginning to see an increase in COVID-19 cases.

Earlier this week Governor Eric Holcomb announced plans to lift the statewide mask mandate in early April. West Lafayette Mayor John Dennis told WBAA on Wednesday that the city is likely to lift its local ordinance. 

Dr. Jim Bien, Chief Medical Officer at IU Health Arnett, said all of this feels premature given the current status of the virus. He says the hospital had two to three people with coronavirus a few weeks ago. As of Wednesday, the number of cases was up to ten. 

“I don’t want to over-read the slight increase that we’ve seen over the last week as a signal of impending surge but... it might be,” Bien said.

Bien said it is especially concerning that mask mandates would be removed as more contagious variants are confirmed to be in the community. 

“I’m worried that our relatively calm state will change and that we’ll potentially see another surge in hospitalizations and serious illness and death as a result,” he said.

Bien said he’s sympathetic to people who want to lift restrictions and put the pandemic behind them. 

“But it’s not behind us,” he said. “It’s still here and there are still a lot of people who are vulnerable.” 

Bien said he’s especially concerned Purdue students will be both unvaccinated and potentially asymptomatic carriers of COVID, making them a greater risk for spreading the virus.  

He said he’d like to keep the mask mandate in place at least until students leave campus. 

 

“If we surge again not only does that increase suffering and death for the families the response to that will be that we have to impose things again,” he said. “I think human nature would offer a barrier to re-imposing it.”