Two Southern Indiana counties have renewed their public health restrictions as the battle against COVID-19 continues.

Last week, Floyd County Health Officer Dr. Tom Harris extended the neighborhood mask mandate for at least another six weeks, noting more time might be added. Gov. Eric Holcomb's statewide mask mandate happens to be issued on the month-by-month basis.

“We know since it’s going to require sometime for the state to disseminate enough vaccines so we get close to 50% of people, the minimum threshold for herd immunity,” Harris said. “So, it makes sense to go forward and just remove the uncertainty and extend it for another 6 weeks. So, that was done, and so the plan would probably be to extend it for an additional 6 weeks next.”

In Clark County, restaurants and bars must abide by capacities limits and early closures for at least another two weeks. Restaurants are limited to 75%, and bars must close at 10 p.m.

Clark County Health Officer Eric Yazel said inside a Facebook post, “No one in this county uses a return to normalcy a lot more than I do. The truth is, our numbers stink at this time.” The county's unique positivity rate has been with an incline in recent weeks and today sits at about 28%.

“Those are the highest we view during the whole pandemic,” Yazel said within the post. “And our contact tracing points towards certain sources of infection, hence the guidelines. Our restaurant and bar partners have worked difficult to create a safe environment for you. We're simply attempting to endure our end from the bargain by making minimal restrictive recommendations we are able to while keeping the public safe. It isn't perfect, but we're attempting to mitigate as much as possible until we are able to get the vaccine out there to everyone.”

But in Floyd County, Harris let those self same restaurant and bar guidelines expire late recently. He explained the state's guidelines, which mandate social distancing and seated service, continues to assist limit spread, even without capacity limits.

Harris said contact tracing data from recent weeks showed the virus was spreading more at small, private gatherings, instead of in public settings. Because of that, he didn't accept is as true was essential to continue restrictions on bars and restaurants.

“It didn’t seem sensible to carry on to achieve the economic impact there without a large amount of benefit,” Harris said. “Same thing with the restaurants- There is no longer any fixed percentage of capacity. Realistically, though, with maintaining social distancing and the other measures, most of them still aren’t going to be at 100%.”

School systems in both counties will have some kind of in-person component for that upcoming semester, which starts now for that counties' largest school systems. New Albany-Floyd County Schools [NAFCS] moved to a fully virtual model in November.

Virtual learning at NAFCS continues for the first week of classes, which starts Tuesday. However the following week, a hybrid model will be implemented.

Yazel said in the Facebook post that he expects a number of last semester's problems to linger when Clark County's school systems return to the classroom.

“Our local schools did an amazing job [in the] first semester with their policies and operations to prevent in-school spread,” he said. “The rates were actually not nearly as expensive community spread. Where we'd difficulty is maintaining teacher and support staff availability between illness and quarantines. I actually do anticipate a number of that to carry on throughout the first few weeks of the semester. So please bear together with your school administrators.”

Yazel encouraged high-risk teachers and support staff to get vaccinated as soon as they can. Clark and Floyd counties started administering vaccines in December.

More than 3,000 tier-1a people have been vaccinated at Baptist Health Floyd, the county's only hospital. Despite delays in getting vaccines to nursing facilities, Harris asserted process is picking up, too. Tier 1b vaccinations are expected to begin next week, allowing more health care workers and at-risk individuals to get the shot.

Clark County had 110 new cases of COVID-19 , having a 7-day moving average of 117. There have been 46 new cases in Floyd County, with a moving average of 60. Both counties have been in Indiana’s orange category, indicating high community spread.