As Carmel’s neighboring cities to the south and east have mandated face masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Carmel city councilors are split on whether to implement the same measures here.
An ordinance is not officially in the works, but at least three councilors — Tim Hannon, Miles Nelson and Bruce Kimball — said they would support one if it were. It would take at least five votes to be approved. In April, the council unanimously approved a resolution urging residents to wear face coverings but stopped short of requiring it.
Hannon, an anesthesiologist who is the only medical professional on the council, said he has been in favor of a face mask mandate for months.
“My concern is if we wait until we start seeing large bumps in hospital ICU admissions and deaths, we’ve missed our opportunity to intervene,” Hannon said. “I think we need to be as mindful of trends as we do absolute numbers.”
COVID-19 cases have been rising in Indiana in recent weeks, although hospitalizations and deaths haven’t spiked as drastically as new cases as of July 21. Nationwide nearly 30 states have mandated masks, but in Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb has left the decision up to local leaders.
The Marion County Health Dept. implemented a mask requirement earlier this month, and the newly-created Fishers Health Dept.’s order to wear a mask goes into effect July 24. Violators in Marion County can be fined up to $1,000, while there is no fine associated with a violation in Fishers.
The Hamilton County Health Dept. recently stated it strongly recommends wearing a face mask, but because it doesn’t have a way to enforce a mandate it does not plan to enact one. Carmel does not have its own health department, so a citywide mask mandate would need to be approved by the city council.
City councilor Kevin “Woody” Rider said a main reason he doesn’t support a facemask requirement in Carmel is because of the difficulty of enforcing it.
“Marion County police have said they’re not going to enforce (their face mask mandate). So why would we put our police in that same position and put our small businesses in that same position? I don’t think that’s a fair stance to take,” Rider said. “I think we should rely on our communications staff of the city, which has done a great job informing the public. We’ve given (residents) the facts and I think they’re making wise decisions.”
City councilor Jeff Worrell echoed Rider’s concerns about enforcement. He said he also doesn’t support a mask mandate at this time because of the deeper divide it could create in the community on an already controversial issue and the possibility that it could drive business to some of Carmel’s neighbors without a mask mandate.
“I think there would be a segment of our poulation that would not be happy about this law and would try and punish Carmel,” he said. “The way they would do that is by going to Westfield and Noblesville, which would be adverse to our business community, which is really a fragile business community right now because of everything else going on.”
Worrell said he believes facemask requirements are best handled at the state or county level. But he’s willing to rethink his position as new information and guidance becomes available.
“Every day things change,” he said. “I’m always open to (reconsidering the issue), but I’m just not there yet.”
Hannon said the order in Fishers “levels the playing field” and could make a mask requirement more likely to be approved in Carmel.
“My suspicion is most people understand and trust the science behind mask wearing and are more likely to be comforted by businesses and cities that require masks,” he said. “The situation is defintely different today even than a couple of weeks ago.”
As for enforcement, Hannon said he believes a coordinated effort by the Carmel Police Dept., Carmel Fire Dept. and Dept. of Community Services could work, primarily by providing education, at least initially. He said he met a couple of months ago with Carmel Police Dept. Chief Jim Barlow to discuss the matter and that Barlow initially expressed support for the idea.
Hannon also said Carmel could look to other cities that have mandated masks to learn how they are handling enforcement and how it’s working.