(INDIANAPOLIS) — Indiana schools start reopening next month, and the state is working on ways to get the message out to students to mask up.
Indiana was already planning to reopen schools on schedule, even before President Trump threatened Wednesday to cut funding to states who don’t. The Indiana Department of Education issued a detailed list of recommended and required protocols to reduce the risk of infection, and state health commissioner Kris Box says the state will do all it can to enable students to return to school. She says it’s important for their education and mental health, and Governor Holcomb adds that it reduces pressure on parents trying to balance child care with work.
But Box says health officials will be on alert for coronavirus surges that could close schools all over again. Hospitalizations for coronavirus are up 12% since June 27, four days before Holcomb delayed the final lifting of restrictions on mass gatherings. And the percentage of tests coming back positive, after staying at or below the 5% comfort level throughout the second half of June, has ranged from 6-to-9%.
Box says there’s no hard and fast rule for what would send students home to study online again. She says superintendents, principals and health departments will need to confer and look at local circumstances, such as whether an outbreak is communitywide or centered at a single business or nursing home, and whether cases at a school are confined to a particular classroom or grade level.
The state is shipping masks and sanitizer to nearly 500 schools which have requested them. Each school will get at least one mask for every student, plus 500 masks for adults. Box says the state is still brainstorming how best to communicate to teenagers and young adults that it’s important to wear them. The state’s already posted a video on social media of Holcomb, Box and other state agency heads wearing masks and encouraging Hoosiers to follow suit. Box says the department is looking at other ways to use social media or peer relationships to connect with students who probably aren’t watching Holcomb’s weekly updates.
Nearly a quarter of Indiana’s coronavirus cases have been people under 30, a sharp increase from the first weeks of the pandemic.
Purdue University is requiring masks for all students and staff, and announced Wednesday it will require students to test negative for the virus before returning to campus.
Box says there are current surges of the virus in northern, northwest and southwest Indiana, particularly in Elkhart, Vanderburgh and Lake Counties. Those three counties had more than a third of Indiana’s newly reported cases on Wednesday.
Indiana Senator Mike Braun reaffirmed plans Wednesday to attend next month’s Republican National Convention in Jacksonville, Florida, and Holcomb says he still plans to go as well. But the governor cautions that those plans can change, just as many states have paused reopening plans or reimposed restrictions after seeing virus numbers surge. He says he’ll continue to monitor the latest health data before booking his flight.