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County reopening on heels of Tyson influx

Wyman urges increased caution as travel ban lifted

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Markland Mall

CLOSURES — Restaurant seating at the Markland Mall was blocked off following state and local restrictions in March. The mall was allowed to reopen Monday.

Howard County will join the state’s Back on Track plan for reopening during the COVID-19 pandemic, and that development comes just after the area’s total number of coronavirus cases doubled due to an outbreak in Cass County.

Last week, Gov. Eric Holcomb announced his plan for reopening the state, which entailed a five-step process that began on Monday. Howard County will join that effort, with the area’s orange travel advisory lifted on Monday as well. Some businesses will begin to reopen at a limited capacity as the public emerges from hunkering down. As that happens, Commissioner Paul Wyman said the public will need to exercise extra caution after the county’s number of COVID-19 cases increased sizably last week, going from 85 to 191 in the span of about a week due to an explosion of cases in the nearby Tyson Food’s Logansport plant.

“What (the Tyson plant increase) needs to do, first and foremost, is serve as a reminder that … this pandemic is not over,” said Wyman. “There’s still a lot of work to be done, and it should be a reminder to us that we have to continue to do things like social separation, wearing masks when we’re out in public, and protect the most vulnerable populations such as people over the age of 65 and folks that have underlying health concerns.”

Wyman said the influx of local cases did not put an undue strain on local healthcare systems, a metric that officials have watched since the pandemic began. As such, the commissioner expressed confidence in the plan to reopen the county. But, as that happens, Wyman said a return to a semblance of normalcy meant area residents would have to exercise additional caution in adhering to social distancing guidelines.

Howard County’s deaths also rose last week to nine when three more deaths were reported last Thursday.

Back on Track

With the announcement of the Back on Track plan, Howard County ended its orange travel advisory a day earlier than it originally was intended to last. Beginning on Monday, all local nonessential travel was permitted. Similarly, the limit on public gatherings was increased from 10 to 25 individuals.

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More businesses also were allowed to reopen in a limited capacity. Retail and commercial businesses now may operate at 50-percent capacity, including shopping malls, with indoor common areas restricted to 25-percent capacity. Those working in office settings were encouraged to continue to work remotely whenever possible but may return to offices in small waves.

Then on May 11, personal services such as hair salons, barbershops, nail salons, spas, and tattoo parlors may open by appointment only, with certain operational limitations in place. Also, restaurants and bars that serve food may open at 50-percent capacity, with bar seating closed and no live entertainment. Religious services may convene again on May 8.

As part of the third stage of the plan, beginning on May 24 social gatherings of up to 100 people may take place following CDC social distancing guidelines. Also, gyms and fitness centers may open with restrictions, and playgrounds, tennis courts, basketball courts, and similar facilities may open with social distancing guidelines in place. Movie theaters may open at this point at 50-percent capacity.

According to the plan, on June 14 retail stores and malls may open at 100-percent capacity, and dining room services may be increased to 75-percent capacity. Bar seating may reopen at 50-percent capacity as well.

Cultural, entertainment, and tourism business may open at 50-percent capacity on June 14. This includes museums, zoos, bowling alleys, aquariums, and similar facilities.

While the entire plan is subject to change, the Back on Track plan intended for all restrictions to be lifted on July 4.

The plan can be read in its entirety at backontrack.in.gov/.