A comment by Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb last Wednesday was either optimistic or unrealistic.

Holcomb extended by a month his statewide order that Hoosiers wear face coverings. His mandate is actually a recommendation, given that it imposes no penalties for violators.

It calls for residents ages 8 and older to mask up in any indoor public or business areas, as well as in outdoor public spaces where people cannot stay 6 feet apart. Holcomb said the order will remain in effect through Sept. 25. It was due to expire last Wednesday.

His order also requires teachers, staff and students in grades 3 and up to wear masks in school.

Those students, educators and school staffers have been leaders in their compliance with the governor’s call. Abiding with rules is a foundational element of a child’s education. The Vigo County School Corp. requires masking in most situations and those who do not follow the rule could face discipline, according to the VCSC “COVID-19 Mitigation Plan.” As for the rest of the state, the governor acknowledged that many residents are not following his face mask order.

Yet, Holcomb stuck by his no-penalties version of a mask mandate, saying he intends to emphasize education over penalties.

“There are some folks who don’t believe it helps,” Holcomb said of wearing face masks to prevent the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus. “I would disagree and offer science as a counterargument to that.”

Clearly, the governor is optimistic, believing that Hoosiers who currently refuse to wear face masks can be educated into changing their attitude.

Perhaps that is indeed possible. If so, evidence is abundant to educate those needing it.

Public health officials and agencies, scientists and doctors have overwhelmingly stated repeatedly in recent months that face masks are effective in mitigating the transmission of the virus. Aerosols and droplets from coughs, sneezes or loud talking can spread the coronavirus, and a face mask can reduce their dispersal, researchers have concluded.

The penalty in Indiana for ignoring those conclusions reached by medical and science professionals is costly, in health terms, especially for the unfortunate people who encounter the maskless. Coronavirus has killed more than 3,200 Hoosiers since it emerged in March. Hospitalizations of people infected with the virus are up from a month ago.

Researchers continue to study the long-term effects on survivors of the virus.

For Indiana to push down the coronavirus significantly, all Hoosiers — beyond just school kids and their teachers, principals, aides, cooks and maintenance folks — need to mask up. Shrugging off COVID-19 can produce some hard lessons, as tens of thousands of American families have discovered in just a few months time.

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