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Huntington to end local mask mandate, lift capacity limits

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HUNTINGTON, Ind. (Fort Wayne’s NBC) — Huntington officials announced Tuesday afternoon that businesses can soon operate at full capacity and their local mask mandate will be lifted in late May.

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb recently announced statewide COVID-19 restrictions will be lifted on April 6, and the state's mask mandate will downgrade to an advisory status on May 31.

Huntington Mayor Richard Strick says his town will follow suit.

On April 6, the city anticipates lifting all venue capacity restrictions at businesses and other entities within city limits when the county’s COVID-19 advisory level is orange, yellow or blue.

READ MORE: Mask enforcement order in Huntington stirs strong feelings among citizens, business owners

Local businesses and other entities within the City of Huntington can expect to resume full operations starting on that date while still following social distancing guidelines.

“The important thing is to see that venue capacity limits are going away and we are moving forward,” Huntington County Interim Public Health Officer Dr. Pflieger said.

In formulating the revised policies, city officials reviewed local COVID-19 data and consulted public health officials including Dr. Pflieger.

While Huntington County has made substantial progress in slowing the spread, the community’s positivity rates and number of new weekly cases place Huntington County at a “yellow” advisory level – an indication we’re not entirely out of the woods.

The locally enforced mask requirement is intended to allow Huntington residents who choose to get vaccinated time to receive the vaccine.

The local policy applies within city limits and requires anyone 8 or older to wear a mask covering their mouth and nose in indoor public places. The order will end on May 31, when it becomes a mask advisory, unless community spread of COVID-19 demands a further extension.

“The reason for that eight week difference between the capacity restrictions rolling back and the mask mandate becoming advisory is because we recognize in that eight weeks there’s a space of time for us to reach a threshold of vaccine and viral immunity that ultimately will transform COVID-19 from a public health issue to a matter of personal health and deliberation,” Strick said.

In remarks to the Huntington City Council during its regular meeting Tuesday morning, Dr. Pflieger said masks are an affordable and useful tool in slowing the spread until more residents have an opportunity to be vaccinated.

“Masks are a placeholder until you get vaccinated,” Dr. Pflieger said.

Dr. Pflieger also noted new study findings released Monday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines to be highly effective in reducing asymptomatic cases, further limiting the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19 by vaccinated individuals.

On November 24, Strick issued Executive Order No. 4 tying local venue capacity limits to the state’s county metrics map and enforcing the governor’s mask order within city limits. Passed the same day, City Council Resolution 16-R-20 extended the measures throughout the duration of the public health emergency.

Pending the state’s announced steps being made official in the coming week, Strick intends to revise Executive Order No. 4 to remove local capacity limits and transition from a locally enforced mask requirement to an advisory policy on May 31.

Gov. Holcomb also said during his March 23 address the state will continue to require masks in all state facilities and all vaccination and COVID-19 testing sites until further notice. K-12 schools will continue under current face covering requirements through the remainder of the 2020-21 school year.

Businesses and other entities operating within city limits will retain the right to enact their own mask policies after May 31.

The mayor said the city will continue to support employers and employees that enforce businesses’ mask policies.

Indiana residents 30 and older are eligible now to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, and all Hoosiers 16 and older can sign up starting Wednesday, March 31. To register, visit ourshot.in.gov or call 211.

An earlier version of this story referenced an end date of March 31 for the lifting of the mask mandate, the actual date is May 31. 

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Kayla Crandall

Kayla Crandall is an Emmy award-winning journalist. She serves as the Social Media and Digital Content Manager at WPTA. Follow her on Twitter @KaylerJayne.

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