The city of Indianapolis will keep in place its mask mandate and other existing restrictions tied to the pandemic indefinitely, Mayor Joe Hogsett announced Thursday morning.
Hogsett’s proclamation followed Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb’s announcement on Tuesday that he would lift similar statewide restrictions in early April.
Hogsett said Thursday he plans to take a “common sense approach” to determining when the city will lift its restrictions through continued conversations with the Marion County Department of Public Health.
“We will not repeal our mask mandate or our capacity restrictions,” he said. “We will continue to exercise the local authority granted to us by the state to keep Indianapolis on the right track.”
Marion County restaurants and many other businesses are restricted to 75% indoor capacity, to allow for social distancing.
On Tuesday, Holcomb said he will allow all statewide COVID-19 restrictions, including the mask mandate and capacity restrictions, to expire after April 5. He will renew the public health emergency order—set to expire April 1—for another 30 days, because that could impact federal funding.
However, he allowed local governments to determine themselves when to alter their own restrictions.
“I personally am grateful to the governor for giving us the flexibility to address the risks that are unique to our particular community,” Hogsett said. “I’m sensitive to the fact that the governor and his decision making has to take into consideration 92 counties.”
Marion County Public Health Director Dr. Virginia Caine said multiple benchmarks must be met before the department can advise Hogsett to lift restrictions and the mask requirement, including herd immunity, three-week positivity rates of less than 3%, and 35 cases per day or fewer for at least two weeks.
She said she’s also closely following variant strains that could disrupt vaccination efforts.
“I need those three metrics … for us to return to normal activities,” she said. “We’re trying to get ahead of this really quickly. Those are the major factors.”
Currently, Marion County has about 80 to 90 cases per day, on average, with a positivity rate below 5% for the past month. It’s averaging about one death per day.
Herd immunity is expected once 70% to 80% of the general population is inoculated; so far, the best-performing age group is those over 70, with just under 60% of those county residents fully vaccinated.
“We are near the end of the race—we can see the finish line,” Caine said. “But we have not yet crossed it. Now is the time to dig deep and sprint to the finish.”
To date, Marion County has not rendered consequences for individuals who don’t comply with mask orders, and IMPD has not been tasked with policing the matter.
Some businesses, including two over the weekend, have been cited and fined—and even temporarily shut down—because of capacity violations.
Caine said the goal is that all businesses operate safely within the existing public health orders, but the department isn’t afraid of “taking enforcement actions when absolutely necessary.”
As part of its efforts to increase vaccinations throughout Marion County, the city is spending $1 million to fund projects and messaging in local neighborhoods that have been disproportionately hurt by the pandemic. This includes efforts to fund community-based organizations that hope to provide messaging and resources tied to wellness and recovery from the pandemic.
“We need to use those trusted community leaders … to address people in their communities, which I think will make a huge difference in terms of increasing the number of people, increasing vaccine confidence in the people we need to reach,” Caine said. “It is clear, people have to make their personal choice, but they have to have good information in order to make those choices.”
Additionally, local officials expect that fans will be permitted at this year’s Indianapolis 500, after the event ran without spectators in 2020.
“I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for us to be able to have fans at the Indy 500 in May, but it may be very difficult for us to say what that capacity is right now,” Caine said. “We’re much further ahead in the game compared to last year, when we were at a similar situation. So, we’re being … very optimistic.”
Added Caine: “I believe we’ll have fans at the Indy 500.”