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As COVID-19 Cases Surge, Tipp. County Health Officials Renew Calls For Masking

The Indiana Department of Health COVID-19 metrics map on July 28, 2021.

As COVID-19 cases rise across the state and country, health officials in Tippecanoe County have renewed calls for masking in hospitals, schools, and other indoor locations.

The Indiana University Health system has announced it will re-implement a mask mandate among staff. 

Dr. Jim Bien is the Chief Medical Officer for IU Health Arnett, which began re-implementing its mask policy as of Wednesday afternoon. He said the policy will even apply to staff who aren’t coming into direct contact with patients. 

“We just are re-implementing the full mask policy regardless of the place where you work because of the risk of sharing this delta variant even among people who seem symptom-free,” he said.

Bien said both IU Health Arnett and Franciscan Health have full emergency departments from a mix of COVID and unrelated illnesses.

“It’s really - it’s a worrisome time,” he said. “It’s a worrisome time.”

Bien said he’s especially worried about staff who he said are struggling to keep up with the pace of another emergency room surge. 

Tippecanoe County Health Officer Dr. Jeremy Adler said COVID cases have nearly tripled over the last month. 

“Right now in the CDC’s COVID data tracker Tippecanoe County is actually listed as a county with substantial transmission of COVID-19,” he said. “We are recommending that people start wearing masks again in indoor public spaces.”

Tippecanoe County’s seven-day all tests positivity rate is just over six percent, according to Dr. Adler. 

Dr. Adler also renewed his call for masking within schools, pointing to newly-released CDC guidance advising masking regardless of vaccination status. 

“We certainly hope that local school boards will choose to follow the CDC’s guidance,” he said. “It really is in the best interest of our students and teachers and our students and teachers families too.”

West Lafayette Community School Corporation already has a mask mandate in place for unvaccinated K-6 students. Tippecanoe School Corporation and Lafayette School Corporation both have back to school plans that make masking optional. 

A spokesperson for Tippecanoe School Corporation said there is “no decision yet” on whether to change their masking policy. 

And Lafayette School Corporation Superintendent Les Huddle said in a written statement that the school board was discussing what to do next. 

“While we have some parents and staff who want an instant response, we need to communicate with all Board members and put together any new Opening Guidelines,” he wrote. “ We are also expecting updated guidelines from the Indiana Health Department any day and we do not want to come out with new guidelines and have to change them right away.”

Huddle said that the board hopes to release any new decision by sometime next week. 

Governor Eric Holcomb has said he would not reimpose any mask mandates in schools, instead urging students, teachers, and staff to mask up.