Last-minute face mask order tweaks help vulnerable populations

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INDIANAPOLIS – The mandatory face mask order got a last-minute tweak to protect some of the most susceptible population groups from COVID-19.

When Mayor Joe Hogsett and Marion County Public Health Director Dr. Virginia Caine rolled out the mandatory face covering order to battle COVID-19, no mention was made of exemptions for homeless people or people inside the Marion County Jail.

However, when the order was published, the homeless and those incarcerated were given a pass. This is not the case after CBS4 News advised city officials of the oversight.

Experts have said that people without homes and those in jails and prisons are among the most susceptible to coronavirus infection.

“If you’re homeless on the street, the facemask would not take place, but if you were in an enclosed shelter with large numbers of individuals and they cannot do the social distancing, they would require a facemask,” Dr. Caine said while discussing the new rules. “I would like to have a requirement relating to all the individuals that are inmates would be able to require a face covering mask if they were not able to do social distancing.”

Even though people without housing can be seen congregating in small groups throughout downtown daily, Dr. Caine said outreach workers will try to educate them on the wisdom of wearing face coverings before the order would be revisited a second time.

Starting Thursday in Marion County, anyone indoors in public in the presence of others, outdoors closer than six feet to another person and over the age of two would be required to wear a facemask.

Those exempt include persons with medical issues, those hospitalized or facing a safety risk or anybody eating or exercising.

Dr. Caine said violations should be reported to the Marion County Public Health Department and enforcement would include warnings and fines that begin at $50 and escalate with each succeeding violation.

“You can see people taking pictures of folks and individuals who are in large gatherings and they’re not wearing masks and they may be at some particular establishment and whatever,” Dr. Caine said. “Send us the pictures. We will follow up and do an investigation related to that.”

People sitting on the Plaza at the City Market across the street from the City County Building said they would continue to wear masks outdoors even if the order does not direct them to.

“Everyone should be required to wear one, especially those out here exposed to the elements,” Kenneth Weems said when he was told about the facemask exemption for homeless people. “That’s ridiculous. Why didn’t they include them? That doesn’t make sense. They should be the ones who should be inclusive. They should be number one on the list, homeless and people that are sick and the elderly.”

Dayna Morrison said she has a son who is incarcerated in the state correction system and was astonished that persons inside the Marion County Jail were exempt from the original order.

“I think it’s ridiculous because those people are gonna get out of jail and they could have something and transmit it,” Morrison said. “It’s just all going in a circle.”

“That’s how your city government works,” Weems said.

On Thursday afternoon, Mayor Joe Hogsett and Dr. Caine will pass out free facemasks at Gleaner’s in the 3700 block of Waldemere Avenue.

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