La PORTE — With coronavirus cases, deaths and hospitalizations skyrocketing in La Porte County, officials on Friday announced a new series of restrictions to stem the spread of the virus.
The new measures, which affect the entire county, including Michigan City and La Porte, were set after consultation between mayors, county health officials and the county’s legislative delegation.
They include a mask mandate, limits on gatherings, and new restrictions – including midnight closures for bars and restaurants – on businesses.
La Porte County Health Officer Dr. Sandra Deausy’s order – which goes into effect Monday – addresses what she called “an alarming spike in cases, deaths and hospitalizations in the past few days.”
La Porte County Board of Commissioners president Sheila Matias cited an “extraordinary amount of cooperation from our mayors, their attorneys, county officials and our state legislators” as the order was “crafted” over the past few days.
“Across the State of Indiana and LaPorte County, cases, deaths and hospitalizations from COVID-19 have reached new alarming highs in the past few days,” Deausy wrote.
“La Porte County now has 3,265 cases reported with positivity rates up to 12.1 percent and 78 deaths, placing this county among the orange category of counties, warranting an urgent and unified response.”
Those numbers were actually low. On Friday, the Indiana State Department of Health reported a record-breaking 143 new cases in the county, bringing the total to 3,569. The county’s 7-day positivity rate for all tests reported was 11.9 percent, and 18.8 percent for unique individuals tested. There have been 82 deaths.
Matias said the county has had “very troubling numbers every day this week and last.”
In a Facebook post, Matias wrote: “Our county broke another record in the battle against COVID with this insidious virus continuing to spread ... our hospitals are full and our healthcare heroes are working hard to take care of all of the very ill people.”
In the order, Deausy said the county has the authority to “forbid public gatherings when considered necessary to prevent and stop epidemics”; and to “abate” any condition that may “transmit, generate or promote disease.”
Among the restrictions, in effect until further notice:
Social events are limited to 50 persons; if the county shifts to a red designation, that will drop to 25
Special events of more than 50 people will need approval from the county Health Department, including special or seasonal events, concerts or musical performances, movie screenings, fairs, festivals, weddings, wedding receptions, convocations and sporting events
The mask mandate remains in full force with both employees and patrons at any establishment required to wear a mask that fully covers the nose and mouth
Indoor and outdoor capacity for bars, restaurants and entertainment venues will be governed strictly by CDC social distancing guidelines
Self-serve buffets and salad bars, as well as karaoke, are banned
Maximum party size at individual tables in restaurants, bars and clubs will be 6
Bars, restaurants, and clubs must close by midnight
Retail establishments are limited to 2 persons per 1,000 square feet of retail space with all carts sanitized, and a maximum of 250 people in any retail establishment at any time (businesses with 2,000 square feet or less can allow up to 5 customers at a time)
Gyms and fitness studios, including locker rooms, are subject to strict adherence to social distancing requirements
Libraries, funeral homes, swimming pools are also subject to strict adherence to social distancing requirements
Inspectors from La Porte and Michigan City can assist the county Health Department with enforcement and compliance.
Matias thanked mayors Tom Dermody and Duane Parry for offering members of their respective inspection departments for “after-hours assistance in gaining compliance.”
The Health Department staff is “already stretched thin dealing with this pandemic,” she said.
The extra inspectors will be paid with CARES Act funds provided to the county and/or funds offered by the governor to assist with local compliance measures.
“This is a remarkable, unified and cohesive strategy to attempt to bend the curve locally and I thank our Health Officer Dr. Deausy for issuing a tough but fair order that deals with many of the situations that potentially spread this deadly virus,” Matias said.
Dermody, in a Facebook Live video, told residents: “We’ve all chosen not to put our heads in the sand and ignore this, and do what I think are some common sense approaches that hopefully will flatten the curve, like we’ve talked about in the past, so we can keep business going.”
“Please do your part,” Matias wrote on Facebook, “avoid crowded places, wear your mask correctly over your nose and mouth, stay as far apart as possible when you must be out buying necessities, wipe down commonly touched surfaces with disinfectant, and wash your hands often.
“These are the things that can help get this virus under control.”
Employees, business patrons and members of the public are encouraged to contact the Health Department’s COVID-19 hotline at 219-362-2525 to report non-compliance.