Health board

The Elkhart County Health Department is based in the Lincoln Center building, 608 Oakland Ave., in Elkhart.

GOSHEN — The Elkhart County Health Department plans on cracking down to try and slow the spread of local COVID-19 cases.

A letter signed by leaders of the county, local cities and public safety agencies announced Friday they have urged the health department to issue a new public health order while cases from the coronavirus continue to mount.

While the order is still being developed, the letter previewed what’s to come by laying out which sectors of the county will be affected with requirements for measures that must be implemented.

The stated areas are businesses and entities; restaurants, bars and entertainment venues; school-sponsored events; and gatherings, meetings and events. The letter notes those environments are where transmission of the COVID-19 virus is occurring most.

The new order, according to the letter, is expected to provide “clear direction” on measures for those environments, including social distancing, the use of face masks, sanitation and occupancy limits. This will follow a countywide mask mandate that was already issued by the local health department June 29.

“The goal of the order will be to protect Elkhart County residents from infection and reduce the number of deaths in our county,” the letter states. “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 impact we experienced earlier this year when the economy was shut down under the governor’s Executive Order.”

The announcement noted the county reached a total of 12,500 cases with 170 deaths. It also states local hospitals are struggling to treat the influx of new patients with expectations for more patients to seek emergency treatment in the coming weeks.

“The current trajectory we are on as a county is unacceptable,” the letter states.

The letter states officials expect the health department to issue the new public health order by Nov. 20. County Health Commissioner Dr. Lydia Mertz said in response to a question that the order could possibly be issued by as early as Wednesday.

“With our hospitals so full, and flu season coming up quickly we need to make people aware of just how very serious this situation is,” Mertz said in a message.

The letter said restrictions in the new order would remain in place until there is evidence of a reduction in viral transmission, such as declines in hospitalization rates and intensive care capacity, declines in new weekly cases, and declines in COVID-related deaths.

The letter is signed by the Elkhart County commissioners; the mayors of Goshen, Elkhart and Nappanee; the chiefs of the Goshen, Elkhart and Nappanee police and fire departments, as well as the local EMS director; members of the Goshen, Elkhart and Nappanee city councils; the Bristol Town Council; two members of the Elkhart County Council; local school superintendents; the heads of the chambers of commerce; and health and business leaders.

The announcement came a couple days after Elkhart County leaders announced all public meetings will only be held virtually, including the Elkhart County Council’s meeting on Saturday.

Indiana is averaging nearly as many coronavirus-related deaths now as it did during the spring’s initial surge of cases, with heath officials adding 50 more deaths to the state’s toll Friday.

Gov. Eric Holcomb also signed a new executive order Friday reinstating limits on crowd sizes for nearly every county across the state starting Sunday after several weeks of refusing to take such action amid sharp increases in Indiana’s COVID-19 hospitalizations and new infections.

The new deaths occurring over several days have pushed the state’s moving seven-day fatality average to 40 per day, just short of highest average of 42 a day recorded in late April.

Indiana’s COVID-19 deaths average has tripled since Holcomb lifted nearly all coronavirus-related restrictions in late September. During that time, COVID-19 hospitalizations have gone up 200% and the seven-day moving average of newly confirmed infections is six times higher.

Gary’s mayor is following Indianapolis officials by tightening capacity limits for bars and other businesses while many school districts across the state are shifting away from in-person classes.

Gary Mayor Jerome Prince cited a steep increase in the city’s COVID-19 infections in ordering that all gatherings, including religious services, have a maximum of 50 people and limiting bars and nightclubs to 50% capacity.

Holcomb announced his new order on Wednesday, saying he was worried about a strain on hospital capacity. It limits crowd sizes to 25 people in the highest-risk red counties under the state’s assessment map and 50 people in the next-riskiest orange counties, with larger events needing approval from health officials.

The order directs the state health and homeland security departments and the state alcohol commission to work with local health agencies on enforcement of mask wearing and distancing at businesses. It recommends incremental warnings for violations and possible orders for business closures for those refusing to comply.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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