A photo of people wearing masks in public
(Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Statewide Mask Order May Boost Compliance, Even Without Explicit Penalties

(BLOOMINGTON, Ind.) — Indiana’s statewide mask requirement is now in effect. Even without explicit penalties, it may prompt more people to wear them.

Indiana law makes it a misdemeanor to intentionally violate an order issued under an emergency
declaration. But Governor Holcomb omitted any specific mention of penalties from his executive order, after pushback from Republican legislators and Attorney General Curtis Hill.

IU Maurer School of Law Professor Jody Madeira says a law is less important in changing behavior than education and peer pressure — the more people see others wearing masks, the more likely they are to follow. But she says making it a legal requirement gives the message more weight than a simple public-service ad campaign.

Holcomb insisted when he first announced the order that “mask police” would not be on patrol looking to write up violators. Madeira says an emphasis on fines and arrests would actually be counterproductive. She says making people feel like they’ve done something good is generally more effective than threats, whether it’s the law or parenting.

Madeira points to a pre-pandemic case study of a hospital which posted signs warning of fines and disciplinary action for people who didn’t wash their hands, and saw compliance plummet. When the hospital replaced them with signs saying “Thank you for washing your hands,” hand washing went through the roof.

Madeira says city and county police departments in Indiana and elsewhere who have declared they’ll
ignore mask orders entirely are not only on dubious legal ground, but are doing their communities a
disservice. Madeira says writing someone a ticket represents a missed opportunity to talk to them about the importance of wearing masks. She says cities where police have spent more time on explaining than enforcing have seen mask use go up.

Some of the opposition to Holcomb’s order focused on the fact the emergency law carries a criminal
penalty. Some local mask orders, including in Indy and Fishers, make failure to wear a mask not a crime but a health code violation.

Indiana is the 31st state with a mask order. Vermont will become the 32nd on Saturday.

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