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SHIPSHEWANA — The Michiana Event Center in Shipshewana was ordered to cease operations late last week after reportedly failing to abide by state and local COVID-19 mitigation directives.

The emergency order, which came from LaGrange County Health Officer Tony Pechin, was delivered to MEC leadership Thursday.

According to Pechin, the decision to close the large entertainment venue was made after MEC leadership failed repeatedly to abide by the COVID-19 mitigation directives included in Gov. Eric Holcomb’s various executive orders, such as limiting crowd sizes and requiring all visitors to wear face masks and socially distance.

“The Michiana Event Center is a large facility, and large gatherings are prohibited under the governor’s order. And in addition to proper masking, and proper social distancing, there’s supposed to be a limit of 25 people attending events, and they could not do that, and did not do that, over the last few weeks,” Pechin said. “We were monitoring it, and gave them both verbal and written warning about the issue, and reluctantly had to give them a closure order.”

According to Jeff Wible, attorney for the LaGrange County Health Department, representatives of the health department met with MEC leadership on two occasions in early December to discuss the ongoing violations. Letters were also sent to MEC leadership in early and mid-December outlining the violations and encouraging compliance with the governor’s orders.

However, Wible noted that MEC leadership continued to host large events at the venue in violation of Holcomb’s directives, and have continued to promote additional upcoming events despite multiple warnings from the health department.

“When it comes to observing the necessity of wearing face masks and social distancing, they failed. They failed in that regard,” Wible said of the venue’s leadership. “So, we’re trying to deal with it, but the terms of the governor’s order don’t give the health officer much wiggle room. He can be more restrictive, but he’s not allowed to be less restrictive. That’s the big hurdle at this point in time, and we’re trying to find a way to deal with that. We haven’t as of yet, but we’re working on it diligently.”

Under the health department’s emergency order, MEC leadership are prohibited from resuming operations until they can demonstrate compliance with all state and local COVID-19 mitigation directives.

“The governor’s executive order, it’s my understanding, is effective through Jan. 24. So, I would anticipate that the emergency order is likely to stay in effect at least until then,” Wible added. “So, we’ve been in touch with the MEC, and we’re trying to come to an agreement on a way to avoid the necessity of litigation. And there’s a chance we can do that, but there’s also equally as good of a chance that that effort will fail.”

A call to the event center seeking comment about the emergency closure was not returned by Tuesday’s publication deadline.

John Kline can be reached at john.kline@goshennews.com or 574-533-2151, ext. 240315. Follow John on Twitter @jkline_TGN.

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