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Southern Indiana businesses weigh options before mask mandate ends in early April

Indiana is moving to a mask advisory April 6 along with easing restrictions for capacity at venues and restaurants as the state opens up vaccine eligibility.

NEW ALBANY, Ind. — With the state's mask mandate set to expire April 6, restaurant owners and local businesses in southern Indiana are exploring options to ensure costumer safety.

Health officials said there will likely be a rush for the COVID-19 vaccine, and the highest administered numbers yet, as Indiana opens up its eligibility to those 16 and older next week.

Co-owners of Board and You Charcuterie, Zack Flanagan and Sean Lara, have grown accustomed to operating under restrictions after opening two businesses during the pandemic, including a new storefront in New Albany this week. 

Flanagan said it is difficult as an owner to make the decision of whether or not to enforce masks in their business, ensuring both his employees and patrons feel safe at their businesses.

"Again we have been so transparent with our staff, both myself and Sean Lara, the other co-owner, and we want our staff to do what they feel comfortable doing," Flanagan said. "And on April 6 if they take their masks off, we will allow them to do so. We just believe it's not up to us."

That sentiment was echoed by Kelly Conn, owner of Pearl Street Taphouse. Conn said he fears an uptick in cases and potential shutdowns will hurt his business after following every protocol placed. 

Gov. Eric Holcomb was asked about this potential scenario of reissuing restrictions amid an uptick during the state's weekly COVID-19 briefing Wednesday. 

The governor reiterated that the state is focused on a data driven approach and that the state is full equipped with resources amid a potential resurgence. 

"This is by no means a mission accomplished moment, but a proceed with caution." Holcomb said. "Judge us on our track record."

RELATED: 'The light at the end of the tunnel becomes brighter and brighter.' | Indiana to open vaccines to all Hoosiers 16 and older Mar. 31.

Like the governor, Conn is planning to proceed with caution as the states enters unknown territory. 

"We really don't know what to do," Conn said. "What are the customers going to say? Are they still going to want people to have masks on?" 

Health officials in local counties are asking Hoosiers to err on the side of caution as a rush to get the vaccine is expected. 

Indiana is leaving the decision to enforce a mask mandate up to local health departments. Floyd County Health Officer Dr. Thomas Harris said right now he is not planning on extending the county's mask mandate once it expires March 31. 

He said he will reassess when the governor's mandate ends, but does not see an extension in the future. 

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