MICHIGAN CITY — Michigan City is back in business, at least as much as the state of Indiana will allow.
Mayor Duane Parry on Thursday announced he has extended his health emergency order through Thursday, May 14, and asked the Common Council to meet next week to consider extending it through Saturday, May 23.
However, his new order puts the city in step with the state, allowing retail businesses to reopen Friday and restaurants on Monday, but at 50 percent capacity with social distancing requirements in place, according to mayoral spokesman Chris Yagelski.
“We’re ending the curfew and ending some of the business restrictions,” he said. “In most areas we will be in step with the state. We want to keep the community safe, but follow the restrictions set by the state.”
The new order does exceed the state mandate placed on religious entities, however, by limiting religious gatherings to fewer people than the state is allowing.
Services, including weddings and funerals, will be limited to 25 people or fewer, and include social distancing and sanitation measures as outlined by the governor’s order, Yagelski said.
The city would prefer that houses of worship continue to utilize virtual services “to safely serve their communities,” Parry said in the order, and drive-in services are not allowed.
The new order also requires out-of-state residents vacationing in Michigan City to self-quarantine for seven days, though Yagelski said it would be impossible to stop those people from coming to the city just to shop. The previous order set the self-quarantine at 14 days.
Washington Park Beach will reopen on Monday, but with gatherings limited to 25 or fewer, and social distancing requirements of 6 feet in place, Yagelski said.
Other parks, including the Skate Park, will be open with the same regulations, though playground areas will remain off limits. Washington Park Zoo will remain closed until at least June 14, and Blue Chip Casino remains closed until further notice.
Yagelski said city government buildings will also remain closed.
“The state says that government buildings can reopen, but we are not going to open yet. City Hall will remain closed for now, and we do not have a set date for reopening,” he said.
In continuing the health emergency, Parry cited the continuing rise in the number of COVID-19 cases. Indiana now has more than 22,000 confirmed cases and more than 1,400 confirmed or probable deaths, according to the Indiana State Department of Health.
La Porte County has nearly 300 confirmed cases and 9 deaths as of Thursday, according to the La Porte County Health Department. Michigan City has 27 cases, and 3 were reported at the Indiana State Prison.
Parry also cited a rising number of cases at long-term care facilities in the city.
“Rittenhouse in Michigan City is experiencing a severe COVID-19 outbreak among its residents and staff, and as of May 4, approximately 11 residents and 7 staff had tested positive,” he said in the order.
The Arbors in Michigan City has also reported 3 residents and 1 staff member have tested positive, Parry noted.
He said the cumulative rise in cases, and projections that, on a national level, “the projections anticipate that daily COVID-19 cases and deaths will rise as states reopen” led to the extension of the declaration.
He called it “an attempt to flatten the curve, slow the spread, and/or stop the spread of COVID-19 ... it is in the best interest of the public and our residents that I extend the declaration of the emergency ...”
Also to remain closed is the Michigan City Public Library, which is working to obtain personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies necessary to reopen, spokeswoman Robin Kohn said.
An announcement on a reopening date and services to be offered will be made when all supplies are secured.
“The safety of the staff and our patrons remains the most critical concern for reopening,” Kohn said.
To help businesses and restaurants prepare to reopen, the Michigan City Chamber of Commerce has released a Back in Business Toolkit.
“As the State of Indiana works to reopen after the response to COVID-19, the Michigan City Chamber of Commerce is providing support to local businesses to assist them as they move forward,” Chamber president Katie Eaton said.
“The “Back on Track” plan provided by the state directs a 5-stage approach for reopening, she said, and the Chamber has taken guidance from that plan to compile a locally driven toolkit for businesses.
“Michigan City has seen a huge economic hit to local retail, restaurants, personal services, and small professional offices,” Chamber Board chair John Wall said.
“While the Michigan City community works through the challenges presented by COVID-19, the Chamber, along with other area agencies, is working hard to assist the business community in efforts to safely reopen and get the area’s economy moving forward.”
The Toolkit includes resources and tips on how to keep employees safe as they return to work, including implementing processes and procedures for cleaning and social distancing, Eaton said.
It also includes communication tools to provide information to customers so they know what to expect.
“Communication is key in helping put employees and customers at ease,” Eaton said. “Sharing information both verbally and in print will eliminate some of the uncertainty people have about what it looks like to visit or return to work.”
While the toolkit is more focused on the reopening of small businesses, it shares best practices that a multitude of businesses can implement, she said.
The Chamber “serves to be a resource to our members, businesses, and the community. We are here to help move Michigan City forward.”
Among the businesses set to reopen Friday is Lighthouse Place Premium Outlets, though Yagelski said the Mayor’s Office had been told only about eight shops would be ready to reopen right away.
A statement from Simon Properties, owner of the outlet mall, said it is taking new precautions, including requiring mall employees to wear masks and have their temperature taken daily. Those with fevers, or cold and flu-like symptoms such as cough or sore throat, will be sent home.
Customers can get masks, sanitizing wipes and temperature testing at the mall office, and sanitizer stations will be placed in common areas, which will be regularly disinfected, the statement said.
The mall will encourage social distancing with signs, markers and extra space between seating.
Visitors to the outlet mall are encouraged to wear masks and use sanitizing wipes; maintain a distance of 6 feet from other shoppers; not enter a crowded store but to come back later; and stay home if they have a fever or other symptoms.