Local Health Orders Lift As New Law Takes Effect
By Taylor Dixon
Across the state, local health orders are being lifted after the General Assembly met earlier this week to override Gov. Eric Holcomb’s veto of Senate Enrolled Act 5.
SEA 5 takes power from local health departments and says that they should make decisions in collaboration with county councils or other county officials. Almost immediately after the law passed, the Indianapolis city council voted to keep all existing health orders, such as keeping indoor restaurants at 75% capacity and keeping a mask mandate.
Other counties, like Tippecanoe and Elkhart, had their health orders undone by the override.
Dr. Virginia Caine, director and chief medical officer of the Marion County Public Health Department, said that the department has been working closely with both health and local state officials to find the safest ways to protect public health.
“The ability to make quick decisions at a local level is critical to protecting Hoosiers during a public health crisis,” Caine said in a statement.
Mindy Waldron, Allen County Department of Health administrator, agreed, saying that most counties work with local officials when making these decisions, but SEA 5 will slow down the process.
“In public health, we utilize a lot of information to make sound decisions, and we usually base that on science-based and fact-based information when we issue these emergency orders. We’re experts in this area and it’s what we do each day, and so to rely on others who do not have that knowledge base concerns us as public health officials,” Waldron said.
Allen County was not directly affected by SEA 5 because health officials there dropped their mask mandate to an advisory when Holcomb announced the advisory in April.
However, some Republicans argued that SEA 5 allows for a more balanced system, comparing community leadership to the state level.
“SEA 5 brings important balance with regard to personal freedoms and public health. Since the onset of the pandemic, Gov. Holcomb has relied on his advisors—including his state-level public health officer—to provide him with the information he needs in order to make decisions on how to lead our state,” Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray, R-Martinsville, said in a statement.
“SEA 5 creates the same setup at the local level and allows action to be taken quickly if needed. We fully expect our local leaders to heed the advice of those with expertise around them, including local health officers. However, our local elected officials were elected to lead their communities, just like the governor leads the state, and those local officials are ultimately accountable to the voters.”
FOOTNOTE: Taylor Dixon is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.