Indiana governor breaks with GOP peers, allows local mask mandates

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb (R) broke with some of his Republican peers on Monday, telling reporters that schools implementing mask mandates are “making a wise decision when the facts warrant it.”

A number of Republican governors have issued orders in recent weeks barring schools from enforcing mask mandates despite the surge of COVID-19 cases throughout the U.S., which is being driven largely by the highly infectious delta variant.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantisRon DeSantisDeSantis eyes ,000 bonus for unvaccinated police to relocate to Florida Twitter suspends GOP Rep. Banks for misgendering trans health official The Memo: Will COVID-19's dip boost Biden? MORE (R) recently gave parents a choice to opt out of mask mandates, contending that parents should decide if their children need to wear face coverings in schools. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has also signed a similar executive order.

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Some districts in the states are now defying the governors' orders, arguing that the threat to children is too great to nix masks in the education facilities.

Holcomb broke from his GOP peers on Monday when he expressed support for the mask mandates in schools.

“I think the schools that are putting mask mandates into place are making a wise decision when the facts warrant it,” Holcomb told reporters, according to The Associated Press“I’m not surprised by the pushback having lived through the last year and a half.”

Holcomb, however, said he would not go as far as to enforce a statewide mask mandate, but would instead give local authorities, schools and businesses the authority to implement such a measure if they wish, NBC 13 WTHR reported.

The number of COVID-19 infections in Indiana steadily increased in the beginning of August, before dipping slightly this weekend, according to the Indiana COVID-19 Data Report. The state has seen more than 803,000 coronavirus cases since the beginning of the pandemic.

More than 1,400 new COVID-19 cases were reported among students, ranging from kindergarten through 12th grade, in the past week, which was four times the number recorded in the previous week, according to the data report.

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Eighty teachers have also tested positive for the virus in the past two weeks.

Hospitals in the state are now seeing more patients with COVID-19, with hospitalization rates rising to levels last seen in February, according to the AP.

Holcomb told reporters that all of the 137 new COVID-19 patients being treated in intensive care units in the state last week were unvaccinated, using the jarring statistic as an opportunity to promote getting inoculated.

“I will go as so far as to say the only thing to fear about the vaccine is fear itself,” Holcomb said, according to the AP. “The numbers prove that it works.”

More than 3 million Indiana residents are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the state’s vaccination dashboard, which translates to roughly 45 percent of the total population, the AP noted.

The majority of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths nationwide have been among individuals who are not vaccinated against COVID-19, according to health officials.