Early this week, the state's mask mandate was changed to a mask advisory, and local leaders have taken differing positions on whether or not they would continue their requirements in response.

Late last month, Gov. Eric Holcomb announced this change would take effect Tuesday, April 6.

Face coverings will remain mandatory in all state buildings and facilities and all vaccination and COVID testing sites until further notice. K-12 schools will continue under current requirements through the remainder of the 2020-21 school year, said press secretary Rachel Hoffmeyer.

Hoffmeyer said local governments, private businesses and other entities may institute more stringent guidelines.

To that end, Wabash County Board of Commissioners chairman Jeff D. Dawes said at Monday's regular meeting that they would continue to follow the previous mandate.

“Although Gov. Holcomb has changed the current mask mandate to a mask advisory effective April 6, Wabash County government will continue to follow the mandatory face-covering requirement which remains in place for all state buildings and vaccination and COVID-19 testing sites,” said Dawes.

Dawes said the current mask-wearing requirements for county employees and visitors in all county buildings are expected to remain in place through at least May 10.

Meanwhile, Mayor Scott Long said on Monday that he supported Holcomb's decision, but that caution was still warranted.

“The mask advisory encourages people to wear masks when in large crowds, enclosed stores and areas where social distancing cannot be practiced. Continued personal hygiene of frequent hand-washing and hand-sanitizing is a must,” said Long.

Long said he was “somewhat concerned that this is occurring as families travel the country on spring break,” but that he still was in favor of the change.

“I am not opposed to the governor's order to lift the mask mandate in favor of a mask advisory,” said Long.

Long said he was relying on the relatively fewer number of cases locally, but that if things changed dramatically, he would revisit his decision.

“I remain cautiously optimistic that we are continuing down the right path, however, I reserve the right to implement measures, to protect citizens and visitors alike, should our positivity rate increase,” said Long.

Long said he was particularly concerned about the recently reported variants of the COVID-19 virus that have been found in other parts of the country.

“Should these variants reach Wabash, we may need to return to previous measures. I will continue to monitor data and consult with health officials on all future decisions,” said Long.

On the same day, local hospitals said they would continue to require masks in their facilities, despite the lifting of the mandate.

“Parkview Health will continue to require masks in all our facilities, including the COVID-19 vaccine clinic at the Parkview Mirro Center for Research and Innovation, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CD) recommendations for healthcare providers. We appreciate everyone who continues to follow our universal masking policies for the safety of our patients, visitors and co-workers,” said public relations manager Tami Brigle. “Additionally, Parkview still strongly encourages the use of masks in public settings. Until more individuals are vaccinated, masks are one of the best tools we have to reduce the spread of COVID-19.”

Lutheran Health Network (LHN) ‎director of community relations and strategic events Joy Lohse said they agreed.

“LHN will continue to follow all CDC guidelines for COVID-19, including masking. All visitors and staff are required to wear masks inside LHN hospitals and clinics. All safety efforts remain in place. The community's ongoing support is appreciated,” said Lohse. “LHN urges all to continue wearing masks and adhering to the recommended safety measures including masking, social distancing, practicing hand hygiene, and receiving the vaccination.”

Rob Burgess, Wabash Plain Dealer editor, may be reached by email at rburgess@wabashplaindealer.com.