NEW ALBANY — Bars in Floyd County must close by 10 p.m. and restaurants have to reduce capacity to 75% based on an order issued Tuesday by the county’s health officer.
Clark County is likely to follow suit with a similar order as early as Wednesday as coronavirus cases continue to stack up in Southern Indiana.
Bar spaces within restaurants must also close by 10 p.m. based on the order issued by Floyd County Health Officer Dr. Tom Harris.
“The intent of this order is to continue to provide a safe environment for all people in Floyd County, and avoid the spread of COVID-19,” Harris said in a news release. “This will protect public health in Floyd County.”
The order will remain in effect until at least Dec. 21.
Clark County Health Officer Dr. Eric Yazel said Tuesday afternoon that the health department was reviewing a similar order that will likely be issued by the end of the week. He said there may be some “subtle” differences such as allowing some lag time so that bars and restaurants can prepare for the changes.
Gov. Eric Holcomb signed an executive order Friday that provides local entities with enforcement powers for businesses that do not comply with mandates. Harris said he interpreted the order to also mean that local health departments need to take the lead and partner to protect their communities, and he added that Floyd County is working with Clark County to try to mirror recommendations and mandates.
Yazel said it only makes sense for Southern Indiana communities to work together due to their proximity so that responses can be uniform. He added that Louisville is part of that equation because if residents there are coming to Southern Indiana because there are fewer restrictions here, it defeats the purpose.
It’s also less confusing for residents and businesses when mandates and regulations are similar in neighboring counties, he continued.
“What we all need to realize is that we’re the Louisville Metro area essentially, so what’s happening in one of our counties is happening in all of our counties,” Yazel said.
As for the 10 p.m. cutoff for bars and bar spaces inside restaurants, Harris said there have been studies that showed an increased likelihood of spreading the virus the later a bar is open.
“We’re talking about people who are becoming intoxicated, they’re close to other people with no mask and they’re smoking and sharing cigarettes,” Harris said.
Yazel agreed and added that typically when a family is going out to eat, they’re in a restaurant for about an hour, then they head home. Those who head to bars, particularly late in the evening, are more likely to be in a public space longer, which naturally increases the risk of exposure, he said.
“If you’re posted up at a bar for five to six hours, that becomes a little more problematic,” Yazel said.
As far as enforcement, Harris said most Floyd County businesses have been in compliance with state and local mandates.
A business will receive a verbal warning if they’re not in compliance. A second failure to comply will result in a written warning and the health department can issue a cease-and-desist order after a third violation. The department can close a business for subsequent violations and refer them to a local prosecutor.
Harris said the intent of Tuesday’s order isn’t to hamper businesses, but he added that with climbing rates of COVID-19 positivity, the health department decided to act.
Floyd County and Clark County were labeled as orange counties on the state’s color-coded zoning map as of Tuesday. Orange counties are defined as places where community spread of COVID-19 is “approaching high levels” and is the third highest of the four designations.
As of Tuesday, Floyd County had 42 additional cases and one new death. Seventy-seven deaths have been recorded in Floyd County and 2,715 cases.
In Clark County, there were 64 new cases bringing its total to 4,370. There have been 74 deaths reported in Clark County.
Yazel said he doesn’t anticipate stricter mandates being issued at the local level in the near future, but he added that will depend on state guidance and what the governor suggests or mandates moving forward.
Floyd County has already extended its mask mandate through the end of 2020. There are no enforcement measures available to the health department for the individual mandate, but Harris said most people are complying by wearing a mask and trying to socially distance.
“At this point, there’s far more people wanting to work together to lower the rate than those opposing us,” Harris said.
There are still those who believe that wearing a mask doesn’t help or that they’re being misled by medical professionals about the risks of COVID-19, Harris said. He stressed that the mandates and recommendations are being made in the name of safety.
“We’re trying to appeal to their common sense,” Harris said.