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As Indiana COVID-19 Cases Surge, A Struggle Over The Mask Mandate

HAMMOND, Ind. (CBS) -- Indiana has set an unwanted record: the most COVID-19 cases in a single day since the start of the pandemic.

The recent surge prompted Governor Eric Holcomb to issue a statewide mask mandate. It's also set off a fierce legal fight.

CBS 2's Steven Graves reported Hammond already had rules that started recently. But there's now a push to reverse his actions all together.

The statewide Indiana mask mandate means places like stores and restaurants have to require face coverings. So will public transportation and ride share services, and also outdoor public spaces where it's not possible to social distance.

Defiance means a Class B misdemeanor.

It's a requirement for children above the age of 8. That means staff and children in schools also have to wear them. It comes as the Hoosier state sees a record spike in COVID-19 cases.

Lake County is following that trend.

"We tightened up a couple weeks ago. We required them in all public buildings," said Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott, Jr. He added that a blanket mandate helps as neighboring towns had different rules.

"We said it should come from up high. It should come from the governor," the mayor said.

The rule is a 180 degree turn from Republican Governor Eric Holcomb's original stance which left mask rules up to localities. Its enforcement policy is not sitting well with fellow Republican Attorney General Curtis Hill.

In a public statement, he said Holcomb has no authority to treat defiance to the mandate as a criminal act, even questioning if he has the ability to mandate masks under the emergency management and disaster law.

He said the issue needs debated and considered on the General Assembly floor.



"The Attorney General's very political. Though he may be technically right, that it's not a crime in Indiana because the General Assembly didn't pass a law, but really in the midst of a pandemic, I think the governor's doing the best he can," McDermott said.

The Democratic mayor said he does not expect enforcement to be an issue. As the balance of protection and politics plays out in the fight against COVID-19. Only the governor can call a special session in Indiana. Holcomb said police will not enforce the rule that goes into effect next Monday.

CBS 2 Legal Analyst Irv Miller said the governor cannot create a new law with penalties, but mandating masks is legally allowed.


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