Editorial: Move to ease virus restrictions is reason for some concern

In a statewide address this week, Gov. Eric Holcomb announced he would extend the state’s public health emergency another 30 days, ease other restrictions he’s put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19 and expand eligibility for vaccines to all Hoosiers 16 and older.

We’re particularly pleased he’s keeping the health emergency in place because it provides him with the flexibility he could need to readjust quickly and reimpose restrictions should things take a turn for the worse.

One bonus is that the emergency order also keeps Indiana eligible to access hundreds of millions of federal dollars to help Hoosiers recover.

Not all health experts agree that now is the time to ease up on social restrictions. Graham McKeen, assistant director of public and environmental health at Indiana University, told IBJ’s John Russell that keeping the mask mandate and occupancy limits at bars and restaurants through the end of April would certainly be a help in controlling the virus.

However, the governor is doing away with those requirements on April 6, after the NCAA Tournament crowds have left the state. Local governments can still impose tougher requirements.

Whether that is the right choice is certainly a matter for debate. Many state lawmakers in the governor’s own Republican Party have been clamoring for weeks to do away with the restrictions, to help businesses recover. A few even see mask mandates as an infringement on their personal freedom.

We disagree with that point of view. And we have some concern that the mask requirement is going away before everyone has a chance to be vaccinated. But we have a much bigger concern about legislative efforts to put restrictions on the governor’s emergency powers in an attempt to allow lawmakers to make such decisions by committee.

Anyone who has ever seen the Legislature at work knows that such a move is a recipe for inaction and gridlock at moments when swift and decisive action is needed to protect public safety.

Holcomb has not abused his emergency powers. He has generally shown himself to be measured and reasoned in his approach. And Indiana has benefited by seeing its coronavirus hospitalizations and death rates fall more than 80% since their December peaks and by being among the best in the nation in getting a high percentage of vaccine doses made available to the state in Hoosiers’ arms.

Some could argue that political pressure from inside Holcomb’s own party caused him to lift restrictions earlier than others would like. But we give the governor props for having the forethought to retain power through his extended emergency order to adjust if needed.

Holcomb’s actions show that the Governor’s Office should retain emergency powers to act quickly and thoughtfully and even protect some lawmakers from their own worst instincts.

Perhaps Holcomb’s decision to continue to wear a mask in restaurants and at public events also will dissuade Hoosiers from tossing their face coverings in the trash once the state’s mask mandate has lifted.

We certainly hope so. As the governor said, wearing a mask is the “right thing to do.”•

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3 thoughts on “Editorial: Move to ease virus restrictions is reason for some concern

  1. The issue is the virus, not the restrictions. The right time to lift the restrictions is after vaccinations for all have had time to take effect… shortly before Memorial Day and the Indy 500.

    The Indiana GOP deserves all the blame for the coming surge and when the city can’t have a full capacity Indy 500.

  2. There is no issue that the Governor keep “emergency powers”. The issue is “how broad” and “how long”. I think the General Assembly should be consulted/”called into session” if the “emergency” period is beyond 30 days. Gov. Holcomb has exercised the power with a lot of care throughout the entire pandemic period. Indiana is fortunate.

    1. Gov. Holcomb asked the leadership of the Legislature if they wanted to be called into session. They declined.

      Indiana is fortunate that the Legislature did not weigh in, they are out of their depth in this circumstance.

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