ELKHART — Though no cases of coronavirus had been confirmed in Elkhart County by Thursday afternoon, events were canceled, venues were shut down and local officials encourage caution.
“We expect that we will see cases very soon and will report that once we have that information,” the Elkhart County Health Department said Thursday.
The Elkhart Health & Aquatics Center canceled a large swim meet late Wednesday that was supposed to run Thursday through Sunday. Thousands, mostly from Illinois, were expected to visit the city for what was billed as the new facility’s largest event since it opened last summer.
The Lerner Theatre, after announcing at 9:20 a.m. Thursday that events would continue as planned, announced at 11 a.m. it would close its doors for the remainder of March. The hope, officials said, was to reschedule events, including “The Price is Right Live,” which was scheduled for Friday.
The Goshen Chamber of Commerce’s Founders Day Luncheon on Thursday was canceled, along with Mayor Jeremy Stutsman’s State of the City address, planned for about 400 people.
Ivy Tech Community College, currently on spring break, will postpone all classes until March 23. At that point, classes will be online through April 5 or longer.
The City of Elkhart canceled a public meeting with Mayor Rod Roberson and City Councilman Dwight Fish, D-4, that was scheduled for Thursday at the Roosevelt Center.
The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Elkhart canceled all face-to-face events, including worship services, at least through the end of March.
The Buckeye Donkey Ball game scheduled for Friday at Bethany Christian Schools has been postponed. People who have purchased tickets may keep them for a rescheduled date to be determined or return them to the Bethany office for a refund.
McCormick Motors in Nappanee postponed its annual Commercial Truck Show.
Outside of Elkhart County, the University of Notre Dame announced that the April 18 Blue-Gold football game is canceled and all athletic activity has been suspended. And all performances of “The Lion King” at the Morris Performing Arts Center were postponed.
Hospitality sector hurts
Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce president Levon Johnson said the cancellations will hurt the local hospitality sector.
Earlier this week, local hotels were 85 percent to 90 percent booked, according to Johnson.
“I can tell you, as of last night, that number has clearly dropped significantly,” he said.
Additionally, hotels and restaurants have been gearing up, making sure they had enough supplies for a busy weekend.
“Some of them have already gotten those supplies in,” Johnson said. “You have to adjust, because you’re not going to have that influx of customers that are coming through.”
The chamber itself is not yet canceling events.
“We actually had one this morning, but it was much smaller than what they were going to have for Founders’ Day,” Johnson said.
The Elkhart County Convention and Visitors Bureau confirmed that hotel reservations have been canceled because of the now non-existent swim meet. Still, canceling the event was the right decision, they said.
“While the Elkhart County region was looking forward to welcoming the Illinois age-group swimming event to downtown Elkhart this weekend, we respect and applaud the decision of the Elkhart Aquatics Center to cancel the event,” the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau said. “Protecting public health with reasonable proactive steps recommended by experts must be the top priority to slow down the spread of the novel coronavirus.”
The organization’s communications director, Terry Mark, said the future of the local hospitality industry is hard to predict.
“A lot of it will depend on just how the situation unfolds and whether there will be continued impact into the rest of the year. We’re hoping not, of course,” he said.
He specifically hopes that events that cannot take place right now will be postponed and bring people to the city in the future instead.
“That would be the best of a bad situation,” Mark said.
Balancing health and social
According to the World Health Organization, the coronavirus poses a greater risk to the elderly. Elkhart County Council on Aging CEO David Toney said his organization is not closing its doors.
“What we’re trying to be is to be precautious and to not freak them out, but at the same time to make sure that they are safe,” he said.
Steps include asking clients whether they have any symptoms or have recently been out of the country before allowing them to have an appointment at the office, which the council is cleaning two to three times a day.
An important service of the council is to transport residents. That will continue, Toney said, and the council is making improved efforts to disinfect its vehicles as well.
As for social gatherings, Toney said their importance to his clients is too great for them to be canceled, at least for now.
“At a senior age, the worst thing that you can do is not to have socialization, and 70 percent of those people, that’s their main socialization for the week,” he said. “What we’re telling them is wash your hands, be cautious. If you want to wear gloves, we have them.”