By BRIAN A. HOWEY, in Indianapolis

1. Pence comes home to a COVID hotspot

Here are your final properly socially-distanced power lunch talking points for the week: Vice President Pence returns to Indiana today, with an 11:45 a.m. fundraiser for Republican attorney general nominee Todd Rokita and an 1:20 p.m. round table on the safe reopening of college campuses at Marian University. He's been traveling across the country urging schools to "safely" reopen, just as he did last May telling states to do the same while President Trump was tweeting supporters to "liberate" their shutdown states. Pence comes to his home state a day it reported a record 1,011 newly documented COVID cases, more than at its apex in late April.

Sadly, with Indianapolis emerging as a new COVID hotspot, with Gov. Eric Holcomb acknowledging the virus is popping up in counties with no history of the disease, with Mayor Joe Hosgett closing bars and reversing much of the reopening, we are coming to the conclusion that Indiana and America did so prematurely. That President Trump made wearing masks a political issue up until this week makes overcoming this virus wave even more arduous. That Italy and other European hotspots shut down longer and more emphatically, and now count COVID cases under 200 a day, when Indiana reported its highest daily total nearing 1,000 and the U.S. is now enduring 70,000 documented cases a day (it's actually higher because of the 40% of the asymptomatic carriers) is emerging proof that we responded in the wrong way. 

That President Trump would cancel the Republican National Convention while Pence is in Indy today to tell us it is safe to reopen schools is indicative of the plethora of mixed signals. With federal leadership lacking credibility and no viable strategy, Gov. Holcomb should back a movement for the 50 state governors to convene quickly and come up with a coordinated national plan. Pandemics are tricky for any government. COVID is a vicious and cruel virus that keeps throwing curve balls at us. The public is in a fearful and anxious state and it is searingly important that governors step into this void in a coordinated way.

2. Holcomb has mask mandate

Gov. Holcomb told reporters on Thursday he has the authority to mandate face mask usage. On Wednesday, Attorney General Curtis Hill said he believed Holcomb had over-stepped his authority. Here’s how the Governor responded when asked during a scrum Thursday: Reporter: Do you feel that you have the legal authority to impose the face mask mandate after Attorney General Hill’s comments? Holcomb: "I wouldn’t have said it if I didn’t believe it. I do believe it." Reporter: Are you concerned that anyone will sue over the mask mandate? Holcomb: "I don't live under the threat of lawsuit. We do our research before we speak."

3. Weinzapfel backs Gov's mask mandate

Democratic attorney general nominee Jonathan Weinzapfel accused Attorney General Hill of playing "pandemic politics" and said he backs Gov. Holcomb's mask mandate. “With the growing number of coronavirus cases across the state, I believe that Gov. Holcomb made the right call," Weinzapfel said. "Wearing a mask is essential to stopping the spread and keeping Hoosier families safe, especially our kids as they prepare to return to school. As Indiana’s next Attorney General, there will be times I disagree with state leaders on issues, but this isn’t one of them. Under Indiana law, the Governor clearly has the authority during a public health emergency to institute a statewide mask requirement and I would gladly defend it in court. Curtis Hill’s position on this mask order should come as no surprise. This isn’t the first time he has played politics during the pandemic." Todd Rokita released this statement: "Our laws did not anticipate the situation we have today and it has raised valid concerns about individual liberty while protecting public health. Our Emergency Disaster Law, like those in other states, was written with short term incidents like floods, explosions, contamination spills, localized health endangerment, or even acts of terrorism in mind. The word 'temporary' exists repeatedly within this law. This Chinese virus has impacted our health, our economy, people’s paychecks, and our kid’s education for months. I look forward to our General Assembly clarifying this law, and if I am attorney general our governor, senators and representatives can count on my support working with them to reform the law, maximizing individual liberty while protecting the public."

4. Sheriffs won't enforce mandate

Sheriffs in Delaware, Sullivan and Hamilton counties along with the cities of Martinsville and Whiteland said they won't enforce the mask mandate (the two cities used nearly identical verbiage). Hamilton County Sheriff Dennis Quakenbush said he considers the mandate "null and void." Quackenbush added, "My primary concern and responsibility is to protect the constitutional rights of the citizens." Sullivan County Sheriff Clark Cottom said, "Deputies will not stop or detain a citizen for not wearing a mask. My staff will not be issuing citations or taking anyone to jail for a violation of this order." He said his deputies "will uphold the Constitution of the United States and enforce the laws of the state of Indiana, which were put into place by our elected legislators." 

5. Thank God: Baseball returns

MLB returned last night with the Yankees defeating the defending champion Nationals. The Chicago Cubs, White Sox and Cincinnati Red all open at home tonight, with the Cubs taking on the Brewers at 7:10 on ESPN, the Sox and Twins at 8:10 p.m. on FSN, and the Reds v. Tigers at 6:10 p.m. on FSDT (all Eastern Times). Play ball!

Thanks for reading, folks. It's The Atomic!