ELKHART — New coronavirus-related restrictions specific to Elkhart County will soon be issued, the Elkhart County Health Department announced Friday.
In a letter, elected officials and leaders from the county, cities and towns said action is needed now to turn around the COVID-19 trend in Elkhart County, where the number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths has hit a record-setting pace. Fifty-four county residents have died from COVID-19 in the last 30 days.
“As we can all agree, the current trajectory we are on as a county is unacceptable. As elected officials and community leaders, our number one priority is to protect the health and safety of our residents. Because of the current crisis, we have been working diligently to intensify our efforts to protect you and your family members from this highly contagious and very dangerous virus. As a result, we have urged the Elkhart County Health Department, headed up by Dr. Lydia Mertz and her staff, to issue a new Public Health Order designed to more significantly mitigate the spread of the virus,” the letter said.
The order is still being developed, but the letter provided some general information about what measures will be included. The order will include specific requirements for businesses, restaurants, bars and entertainment venues, school-sponsored events, and other events and gatherings.
“The new Public Health Order will provide clear direction on the protective measures that are to be implemented in each of these environments,” the letter said. “The goal of the order will be to protect Elkhart County residents from infection and reduce the number of deaths in our county. It is important to note that we want to do this while keeping the economy open. This is a concern among all of us and we want to avoid the negative economic impact we experienced earlier this year when the economy was shut down under the Governor’s Executive Order.”
Fines and legal action
The Elkhart County Health Department is granted the authority by the state to issue such public health orders to protect residents from the spread of communicable diseases, including COVID-19, the letter said. Local health departments are also given tools to enforce public health orders. These tools can include the imposition of fines and penalties for violations.
“While it is our hope and desire to seek voluntary compliance through education, the order will include the option of issuing fines and taking legal action where necessary. More details about this enforcement will accompany the new Public Health Order,” the letter said.
Given the urgency of the pandemic, the Health Department plans to have the public health order issued no later than Friday, Nov. 20. Once the order is issued, restrictions will be reduced when there is clear evidence the transmission of the virus is being reduced, the letter said. Indicators will include hospitalization rates, ICU capacity, the number of new infections and the number of COVID-19 deaths
“We, the undersigned elected officials and community leaders, strongly support the work of the Elkhart County Health Department to develop and adopt a new Public Health Order that will help protect our residents from being infected by the coronavirus while also keeping our economy open,” the letter said.
Elkhart County commissioners and mayors pledged to work closely with the Health Department to enforce these new provisions “in a reasonable manner.”
Restrictions by Gov. Eric Holcomb will begin Sunday, Nov. 15.
The Elkhart County letter was signed by the following:
Commissioner Frank Lucchese
Commissioner Suzie Weirick
Commissioner Mike Yoder
Nappanee Mayor Phill Jenkins
Elkhart Mayor Rod Roberson
Goshen Mayor Jeremy Stutsman
Kristofer Seymore, Elkhart Chief of Police; Shaun Edgerton, Elkhart Fire Chief; Jose Miller, Goshen Chief of Police; Dan Sink, Goshen Fire Chief; Steve Rulli, Nappanee Chief of Police; Don Lehman, Nappanee Fire Chief; Jim Sumpter, EMS Director
Elkhart County Council:
Randy Yohn Doug Graham
Elkhart City Council: H. Brent Curry, Aaron Mishler, David E. Henke, Dwight Fish, Tonda Hines, Mary M. Olson, Arvis Dawson
Goshen City Council:
Megan Eichorn, Julia King, Gilberto Perez Jr., Matt Schrock, Brett Weddell
Nappanee City Council:
Denny Miller David Kauffman, Anna Huff
Randy Christoffel, CEO, Goshen Health; Dr. Dan Nafziger, Chief Medical Officer, Goshen Hospital; Carl Risk, President, Elkhart General Hospital; Dr. Bache, Chief Medical Officer, Elkhart General Hospital
Jane Allen, Middlebury; Scot Croner, Wanee; Bob Evans, Fairfield; Dan Fuston, Concord; Steve Hope, Goshen; Byron Sanders, Baugo; Steve Thalheimer, Elkhart
Jeff Beachy, Bristol Town Council; Whitney Pierle, Bristol Town Council; Floyd Lynch, Bristol Town Council; Cathy Burke, Bristol Town Council
Chambers of Commerce:
Nick Kieffer, Goshen; Levon Johnson, Elkhart; Jeff Kitson, Nappanee
Bob Martin, President & CEO, THOR; Colleen Zuhl, SVP CFO, THOR; Todd Woelfer, SVP General Counsel, THOR; Ken Julian, SVP Administration/HR, THOR; Josef Hjelmaker, Chief Innovation Officer, THOR; Galen Miller, CEO, Miller Poultry; Jan Farron, President, Babsco; Bill Rieth, President, United Way of Elkhart County