GOSHEN — The mayors of Elkhart, Goshen and Nappanee may propose local measures following the county’s adoption of penalties for breaking COVID-19 safety rules.
An ordinance passed by county officials Monday sets penalties for businesses that violate public health orders that went into effect Nov. 19. Businesses and events will be checked for compliance with rules requiring face mask use and other safety measures, and fines will be assessed if initial warnings are ignored.
The ordinance includes a sample form for assessments, which asks whether the subject of the inspection is following each of the directives of the public health order. In the case of a gathering or event – outside of a household or religious service – it asks whether a safety plan had been submitted to the health department for approval ahead of time and whether more than 25 people attended.
A civil citation form is also attached. The ordinance spells out eight second-offense fines, including $50 for failure to post a face covering sign at every entrance and $100 for failure to create a COVID-19 response plan as required in the Elkhart County Health Department’s Nov. 19 orders.
There is a fine of $250 for violations including failure to ensure compliance with the face covering directive, hosting an unauthorized meeting or special event or other violations of the public health order.
Total fines on second offense are capped at $2,500 per day. Fine amounts are doubled on subsequent offenses, up to a total of $5,000.
The penalties go into effect Dec. 17, after the Elkhart County Board of Commissioners held an emergency meeting Tuesday to correct a mistake from Monday that gave an earlier date. The ordinance must be advertised for two weeks before it can be enacted, and the original Dec. 10 date didn’t give enough time.
“Nobody noticed that yesterday but that was not an attainable date,” Commissioner Mike Yoder said Tuesday. “So much work went into this ordinance, it was read and re-read so many times, it was just an oversight.”
The ordinance does not carry an end date, but remains in effect until it’s rescinded by the county commissioners or until the public health order is rescinded by the county health officer.
The county’s measure applies to businesses and entities in both unincorporated areas and in municipalities. It authorizes cities and towns to designate a group who can enforce the ordinance locally.
Yoder said they wanted to coordinate the ordinance with the mayors in Elkhart County, and he expects them to put similar measures before their local boards in the coming weeks.
“We worked closely with mayors and the cities’ attorneys on this,” he said. “We expect the mayors and city councils to be considering either similar language or something similar at council meetings either this month or in January. We wanted to be sure everything was aligned, that can be a complicated process.”
Goshen Mayor Jeremy Stutsman confirmed that he, Elkhart Mayor Rod Roberson and Nappanee Mayor Phil Jenkins have been working together and plan to make a joint announcement this week.
Food inspectors with the Elkhart County Health Department will be involved in checking on businesses and events, though Health Officer Dr. Lydia Mertz said they hope to get help from others as well. The ordinance also gives enforcement authority at the county level to the Emergency Management director.
Some inspections will be spontaneous and some will be complaint-driven, according to Mertz. She said the aim is to educate people on the rules, work through problems they may have and stress the seriousness of the pandemic.