SOUTHERN INDIANA — Indiana’s stay-at-home order means sweeping changes for nonessential businesses across the state, but in Southern Indiana, some types of retailers categorized as nonessential remain open.
As the area responds to the coronavirus pandemic, the News and Tribune talked to local officials regarding what steps are being taken to enforce the statewide orders issued by Gov. Eric Holcomb to increase social distancing in Indiana. The stay-at-home order was announced last week, and it will last until at least April 6.
The governor’s mandate includes craft stores as nonessential businesses, but a few craft retail chains in Southern Indiana were still open for business as of Monday afternoon, including Michaels and JOANN Fabric and Craft Stores in Clarksville.
Michaels was offering curbside pickup for customers but restricting in-person traffic, according to an employee. JOANN was providing curbside pickup, and the store was only allowing a limit of 10 people inside the store at once, a manager said. JOANN President and CEO Wayne Miquelon said in a March 23 statement that the company is performing “essential business activities” by providing raw materials to make personal protective equipment to supply local healthcare providers.
Clark County Health Officer Dr. Eric Yazel said there have been several instances of businesses not immediately complying with the order, and the health department has provided verbal warnings they have all complied with so far. If they did not comply following the initial warning, the next step would be a formal letter, and the third step would be a court order to close.
“Honestly, everyone we’ve reached out to has been pretty receptive,” he said.
As instances of non-compliance are brought to the Clark County Health Department’s attention, a committee reviews the cases on a daily basis. Yazel said the department is recommending that Michaels and JOANN close, but they are still negotiating whether they can continue offering curbside service. He noted that JOANN providing materials for masks and protective gear might be a reason for leniency.
Floyd County Health Officer Dr. Tom Harris said the health department is working to keep the county as close as possible to the governor’s mandate, and the department is doing what it can do consult both essential and non-essential businesses on what it needs to do and what changes need to be made to adhere to the order.
“We’re looking at it like how can we help you comply, not how can we shut you down,” he said.
In the case of nonessential businesses remaining open, enforcement of those going against the mandated stay-at-home order would be in the jurisdiction of the Indiana State Police and local law enforcement, according to Harris.
Floyd County Sheriff Frank Loop said if the sheriff’s department received a complaint about a nonessential business staying open, police would verify whether the business was on the list and provide warning to the business. If they still do not comply, it then might be necessary for the health department to initiate a court-ordered closure.
Local health departments have also responded to complaints from community members who are concerned about crowds and a lack of social distancing at businesses and other spaces.
Pearl Street Treats, a local ice cream and frozen yogurt shop in Jeffersonville, is allowed to remain open since it serves food to-go and no longer offers self-serve, and most of the shop is closed. The shop was visited Sunday by the Clark County Health Department regarding concerns about people crowding at the shop, and the staff quickly made some changes.
According to owner Lynn Rhodea, the shop removed furniture from the front, turned around furniture so people cannot sit and put tape on the sidewalk to help people remain six feet apart. She said some people who are not even customers often sit on the furniture.
Yazel said while he advocates curbside pickup for food or pharmaceutical items, it should not be used for nonessential items, and people should stay home unless they are making essential trips. He also emphasizes the risks involved for workers in a retail setting.
“Within a store, one person might work the cash register, and someone might checkout someone, and even with maintaining a six feet distance, there are surfaces you touch more than you think, and there’s more risk of transmission than you might realize,” he said.