Governor Eric Holcomb opened his Wednesday press conference with an announcement for Hoosiers: "Let me get straight to the lead," Holcomb began. "Tomorrow, I will sign an executive order that will mandate that Hoosiers wear face coverings during specific times and specific places."

The effective start date of Governor Holcomb's mask mandate will be Monday, July 27, due to the following determining factors:

• Get children back to school and keep Indiana businesses open and operating.

• Increase in COVID-19 positivity rate.

• Increase in the number of Hoosiers hospitalized for COVID-19.

• Additional counties seeing more cases

• Increase in cases and positivity rates in neighboring states.

Holcomb went through and provided explanations and data about those determining factors to help Hoosiers understand why it is necessary to move forward with face coverings, which he believes will help Hoosiers "blunt this increase."

"There has been a rise in COVID-19 positivity across the state from a low of 3.6% just a month ago to where we found ourselves today with a seven-day average rate of just about seven percent, the last few days eight percent," Holcomb explained.

Who does the mask mandate apply to

The mandate beginning on Monday applies to anyone eight years or older in indoor public spaces, commercial entities or transportation services, or outside public areas when you cannot socially distance.

Mask use in schools will be required for grades three and up, faculty and staff, volunteers and anyone else in schools. Masks are strongly recommended for ages two to seven. Masks are also required for co-curricular and extra-curricular activities, with exceptions for strenuous physical activity.

"The order will, of course, need to have exceptions, I fully realize that," Holcomb said. "For example, for medical purposes, exercising and obviously eating and drinking."

According to Holcomb, compliance and enforcement will remain how it has been so far through the Back on Track plan: an approach of education and appealing to one's civic duty and pride of being a part of a solution. Although the governor did mention not wearing a mask in the locations outlined in the mandate is a Class B Misdemeanor.

In a press release, Holcomb's press secretary Rachel Hoffmeyer confirmed the governor's sentiment.

"The state will approach enforcement of the face covering with an emphasis on education. The executive order states a penalty can be levied under the authority of state law. Local governments may impose more restrictive guidelines."

"Please know, the mask police will not be patrolling Hoosier streets," Holcomb clarified. "When I asked you months ago to hunker down, you did, we did, and we slowed the spread, it is just factual.

"The simple act of covering our faces, as odd as it may feel, can help us prevent the transmission of the virus, which is why this is the next prudent step that we as a state need to take."

School Guidance

"There is no more important task before us than returning students safely to school for instruction," Holcomb said.

Holcomb clarified that staying in stage 4.5 for any period of time does not preclude schools from opening or require modifications of their efforts. Holcomb also reminded listeners he would not set a single start date for schools to begin. He believes it is up to the local school leaders, and he feels confident in their ability to set their date, especially after reviewing several plans from school systems around the state. Holcomb did urge school districts to be mindful of what the impact the decision to conduct virtual education has on many family units. He urged schools conducting virtual education to consider opening their buildings for online learning.

"Please consider opening your buildings and providing transportation for students who need a safe site to participate in their online learning while virtual learning is in session," Holcomb said to school administrators during the press conference.

Next, Holcomb encouraged all schools across Indiana to apply to the pandemic FEMA public assistance program. This program will allow schools to be eligible to be reimbursed for supplies needed to reopen facilities safely. The deadline to apply for assistance is July 31.

The governor also shared the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, along with Langham Logistics, estimates it will have delivered 1.1 million masks to 228 schools by the end of this week.

"In the first six days, not weeks, days of this program, we have delivered more than half of the number of masks requested statewide," Holcomb said. "We are getting it done statewide."

Schools will be able to get on the Back on Track website to access masks if the school or corporation is not listed.

The importance of masks

The guidance for wearing a mask has changed throughout the pandemic, causing mixed emotions for many. According to Dr. Lindsay Weaver, chief medical officer for the department of health, several studies show wearing a mask does help reduce the droplets from a cough or a sneeze. Based on data collected by the state of Indiana, close to 40 percent of those who tested positive had no symptoms, which Weaver says "underscores the need for masks," but ultimately reiterated the importance of wearing masks.

Weaver also shared a report regarding two hairdressers in Missouri who served nearly 140 clients while both stylists were positive for COVID-19; none of their clients contracted the virus.

The announcement for the mask mandate came after Indiana had another day of high positive cases, reporting 763 new positive cases as of July 21 and bringing the total of Hoosiers to 58,673 positive cases.

Indiana Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Kevin Brinegar released the following statement regarding issuance of a statewide mask mandate for Hoosiers:

"Too many Indiana companies, employees and their families are in their fifth month of financial turmoil. That will not change and our economy will not be on the full road to recovery until some certainty is brought to this uncontrolled pandemic. The wearing of masks is a proven strategy for protecting others and enhancing our health – both physical and economic.

"Governor Holcomb's order is a necessary step at this time in continuing to reopen Indiana safely."