ELKHART — Officials say they are still unsure how local authorities will enforce new regulations designed to stem the spread of coronavirus.
“We really do want to figure out how we enforce some of the things necessary in order to make sure that our citizens are conscious of how serious this is and how sober we need to be when we look at it,” Mayor Rod Roberson told the City Council on Monday night. “There is still a segment of the population who feels as though this may be a hoax.”
Gov. Eric Holcomb on Monday ordered all restaurants and bars to stop sit-down service.
Roberson has asked city attorney John Espar to look into the city’s options for declaring an emergency and what measures that would give the administration and police.
“We will keep that as a part of another level if we need to,” Roberson said.
The city administration is in discussions with Elkhart County authorities to figure out who will enforce coronavirus-related rules. Elkhart Police Chief Chris Snyder said on Tuesday morning that county Environmental Health Department had not received directions for how to move forward.
In the afternoon, Environmental Health Department manager Karla Kreczmer said she was still waiting for directions from the Indiana State Department of Health on who will have the jurisdiction to prevent in-house dining at restaurants.
She said the department was notified of a couple of restaurants in Elkhart County that had in-house dining on Tuesday. For now, there is no enforcement, but the Environmental Health Department is trying to make restaurants comply.
“We are making contact with people and discussing the directive from the governor and the need to follow that directive when we receive a complaint,” Kreczmer said.
Though no confirmed COVID-19 case have been reported in Elkhart County, Roberson said that is just a question of time.
“But I know that there are some that are in the funnel as we speak, and the county Health Department has indicated that we may see one confirmed case or maybe a few by the end of the week,” he said.
All school corporations in Elkhart County announced last week that they would close their doors and move to online learning.
At City Hall, most chairs in the Council Chambers had been moved to the side for the council meeting, and the remaining seats were spread out in the room with at least 6 feet between them.
The attempt to prevent the spread of coronavirus at the meeting also had City Council members sitting farther apart than normal. As the meeting must be public, the city courtroom, also at City Hall, had been designated an overflow area where people could follow a live stream and send questions to the council via the Mayor’s Office. The live stream could also be followed on the city’s Facebook page.
The Mayor’s Office had wanted to live stream council meetings since before the coronavirus was a significant concern in the United States, though there was not an intention of launching the stream by Monday. Communications director Corinne Straight-Reed said that is why the stream was not in the quality that she is hoping to get in time. Still, for much of the meeting, about 30 people followed along online, while 21 – including nine council members, some department heads, the mayor and two of his staffers, and one reporter – were at the physical meeting. No overflow area was required.
The administration is currently figuring out what city employees can be deemed non-essential, Roberson said.
“Just to make sure that, if we do get to a place that we need to send some of our staff home, we know who absolutely needs to be there in order to provide all the services necessary to keep the city on,” he said.
Non-essential staff that might be sent home would still be asked to work.
“As you well know, there are only very few of our city employees that would be able to work from home,” Roberson said. “We can’t fill a pothole from home.”
Among other steps taken by the city, non-essential board meetings are postponed; City Council, Board of Public Works, Redevelopment Commission and the Parks & Recreation Board are among the bodies that will continue to meet.
City staff has been allowed to go into negative sick time balances and build back their sick time when they return without adversely affecting their biweekly paycheck. Staff is not allowed to travel outside of Elkhart County for work and is encouraged to stop personal trips outside of the county if they are not necessary. Park pavilions are no longer available for rent.