The Miami County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday voted down an order from the county’s Board of Health that would have imposed a mask mandate for the county as cases of COVID-19 continue to rise.
“I’m very very afraid it is going to get worse,” Miami County Health Officer Dr. James Rudolph said during his brief remarks at the morning meeting.
Commissioners Brenda Weaver and Fred Musselman voted against the order. Commissioner and Board Chair Alan Hunt voted for it.
The vote was the second time commissioners have been asked in the past month to consider taking steps to help slow the spread of the disease after cases began surging in early August.
Rudolph asked for them to implement their own measure in August, but they declined to take up the matter following several public comments from county residents opposed to any additional measures.
Not long after, Rudolph convened an emergency meeting of the county’s health board saying he believed the best method for achieving a mandate was to present an order that commissioners could either vote up or down.
That, he said, was based on his reading of a new state law – commonly referred to as Senate Bill 5 – which passed during the last legislative session with heavy Republican support. The law requires that mandates from county health boards must now be OK’d from the county government, or city government where applicable.
The bill met harsh criticism from public health officials around the state and earned a veto from Gov. Eric Holcomb, but it was overridden by his own party.
The order, as passed by the board of health, would have required everyone, with few exceptions, in the county to wear a cloth face covering in “an indoor public place” as long the county remains in either the orange or red category on the Indiana State Department of Health’s county metrics map.
The county first moved to orange in August and has hovered, Rudolph said, close to being pushed into the red category which would indicate the highest levels of community spread in the state.
In addition, he said, the growing number of new cases is putting pressure on Dukes Memorial Hospital which is seeing an estimated 50 percent increase in visits to the emergency room.
The county vaccination rate remains below 40 percent, among the lowest in the state.
Commissioner Brenda Weaver said before casting her that she would prefer to see a push for drug companies to come up with treatments for the disease rather than so much effort being put into imposing mask mandates.
“Until I see the pharmaceutical companies putting out medication to keep us out of the hospital, I can’t ask people to wear a mask,” she said.
Rudolph said that absent such “outpatient” treatments for the actively infected, the best line of defense to reduce the burden on the hospitals was to require masks in an effort to slow the spread in the community.
Rudolph’s proposal met some public push back during a public comments period. Three community members also spoke in favor of the mandate at Tuesday’s meeting.
As of Tuesday’s update from the Indiana State Department of Health, 4,962 county residents have tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. That number represents an increase of 91 cases since Friday’s update. To date, 79 county residents have died.