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Allen County Limits Capacities In Restaurants, Gyms As COVID-19 Cases Rise

FILE PHOTO: Rebecca Green

Allen County and many of its municipalities are implementing new restrictions as coronavirus cases have increased 500% since the start of October.

Following Governor Eric Holcomb’s rollback of the state’s Stage 5 of reopening along with new restrictions, health commissioner Matthew Sutter was joined by mayors and county leaders to announce the local restrictions Tuesday morning.

“Hard caps” for attendance will be implemented on county events; Sutter noted Holcomb’s new caps of 25 for areas in the red and 50 for orange are “soft” and could be determined locally. The health department will not approve plans for events with more than 100 participants while red, and no more than 250 participants in the orange.

Restaurants and bars must also limit indoor capacity to 50%, while outdoor seating can remain at 100%. They will also need to be closed from midnight to 5 am, no self-service salad bars or bar seating, effectively mirroring Stage 3 of the state plan. Gyms will also be limited to 50% capacity.

He says Allen County is “so much in the red” with cases now that the department has to update its graphs every day to account for new totals. Hospitals aren’t overwhelmed yet, but there are currently about 350 patients in for COVID-19 and they are moving to “surge capacity plans.”

“When you double [cases] every seven days, there are not enough resources to plan for that. So we need to bend this curve before we get the hospitals in trouble.”

He says his four goals with the order are to bend the curve downward, protect the hospitals and healthcare workers, avoid unnecessary deaths and be “sensitive to business.”

Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry remains concerned about the way things are trending. While appreciative of Dr. Sutter’s orders, he says he didn’t feel they went far enough.

Henry notes that Thanksgiving, religious celebrations in December, and New Year’s annually serve as three of the biggest opportunities for families to gather, but that any time a holiday has passed since the pandemic began, cases have surged.

“We need to put the hammer down, and we need to take the type of action necessary to convince the citizens that we’re serious about this. Like the doctor said, if you don’t take appropriate action, you will die.”

Henry will shut down Citizens Square for the second time this year, effective next Monday, November 23, until January 19. That return date aligns with the recommended two-week quarantine period should any city staffers catch the virus on New Year’s.

The building will only be open to essential employees, but he says they will be given everything they need to continue their work and assist residents at home if necessary. Essential services like public safety and garbage collection will continue as normal.

New Haven Mayor Steve McMichael -- who endured a COVID-19 diagnosis himself -- says that sometimes, he still feels more exhausted than usual. He asked residents to consider the individuals still forced to work public-facing jobs.

“The heroes have spoken. They’re tired, they’re overworked. The least we can do is put on a simple cloth mask and follow those simple things.”

Allen County’s surge correlates roughly when Governor Eric Holcomb moved Indiana to Stage 5 of his reopening plan, as noted by Sutter. With the rate of cases exploding from 3.9% to 10.3% in the six weeks since and despite multiple refusals, Holcomb finally added new restrictions and rolled Indiana back from Stage 5 last Wednesday.

If these new restrictions don’t result in improving numbers, several of Tuesday’s speakers noted that the next step would have to be particularly harsh, though it’s unclear as of now what that could look like.