County, city limit gatherings to 75 people

Local restaurant owners are among those urging Wayne County residents to wear masks, social distance, and wash their hands so that they don’t go out of business and kids don’t have lifelong health problems.

During a press conference aired on WCTV on Thursday, Oct. 22, local business and tourism leaders as well as government officials asked residents to take measures as a united team to protect themselves and others from the deadly virus and keep local businesses and schools open.

Zack Parker, an owner of Roscoe’s Coffee Bar and Tap Room, said the community mostly has been great about compliance with health guidelines.

However, he is concerned about the nearly daily harassment some of his teen and young adult employees have taken from customers decades older who don’t want to wear a mask and intend to start a fight, calling it “ridiculous.”

“You are the ones that are perpetuating this pandemic by refusing to be responsible and do the right thing,” Parker said. “You’re putting myself in jeopardy, my family, my employees, all of my customers. I don’t understand the logic behind it. You hear a lot about ‘If the masks are working, then why are the numbers going up?’ Well, you’re the ones not wearing them. That’s why they are going up. It’s not the masks that aren’t working, it’s the people who aren’t working.”

Roscoe’s announced in recent days it’s closing its National Road East location at 2 p.m. Oct. 25 to focus on its Depot District shop because of “insurmountable circumstances.” Parker acknowledged no one wants to wear a mask, but it’s important to do so to get to the other side of the pandemic.

Adam Melton, owner of The Cordial Cork restaurant, said it was tough enough for a relatively new restaurant to stay in business before the pandemic. It is even more difficult now to operate at 60 percent of typical revenue, and if numbers don’t improve, his business could shut its doors in five months.

“Another shutdown will kill us immediately, and I know I’m not the only person in that position,” he said.

Melton urged the community to find common ground, thinking of itself as a team to make the right decisions about masks, social distancing and handwashing, noting they are a small price to pay to keep small businesses alive.

As part of the shared executive order between Richmond and county government, residents are to avoid gatherings of more than 75 people in an effort to keep businesses and residents safe. Religious gatherings will be exempted because of the efforts of Indiana’s attorney general, but social distancing will need to carefully be practiced.

Health officials are also concerned about the upward trend in cases.

While COVID fatalities are largely occurring in older residents, Health Department Executive Director Christine Stinson said some young families already are dealing with long-term health issues.

For instance, Stinson said she has spoken with the mother of a 17-year-old local girl who became ill in May with COVID, and the teen is now having to see a cardiologist for heart issues. Two more local cases have been in a 6-month-old and a 15-month-old.

“We don’t know what the long-term effects are on our young people,” Stinson said, noting they could have damage to their hearts, lungs and/or kidneys.

Wayne County has had more than 500 cases of COVID diagnosed in October, and Stinson noted that some patients will pay a high cost in health issues as well as hospitalization bills.

“Every one of these numbers is a human being,” Stinson said.

Richmond Mayor Dave Snow acknowledged a sense of fatigue, but pleaded residents to take personal responsibility to avoid negatively affecting the local economy, saying that protective measures shouldn’t have become political.

Wayne County is currently in the orange, or third worst of four levels for COVID infections, and is on pace to go into the red zone. Commissioner Ken Paust said under a red zone, the state potentially could take more drastic measures that they’d rather avoid.

Dr. David Jetmore, county health officer, said no one wants to go back to a lockdown, because that would be disastrous to small businesses, but he noted recent cases have been sparked by people getting together in large groups, breathing the same air and not wearing masks.

As of Thursday, the county has had 31 COVID-related deaths, with 16 of those happening in October alone. Nearly two dozen of the deaths have happened in long-term care facilities.

Stinson said the community spread needs to be reduced so it’s not brought into nursing homes, where the population is especially vulnerable.

Unfortunately, some residents let their guards down when the state moved into Stage 4.5 and 5, thinking that life could return to normal, speakers said.

Dr. Thomas Huth, vice president of medical affairs for Reid Health who appears weekly on WCTV’s “Ask the Doctors” show, expects there will be more deaths from the local surge of illnesses, and regrets that who are dying from COVID now aren’t going to get to enjoy another Christmas.

He said seniors shouldn’t be expendable, and everyone knows someone who’s high risk that they could infect with the virus.

“Nobody deserves to die right now from COVID-19,” Huth said. “These are avoidable.”

Huth said residents have to choose to not go places where people aren’t taking it seriously, noting he’s walked out of businesses when he’s seen little mask compliance.

Pointing to his head, he said, “The real change is here. We have to decide we’re going to do the right thing.”

Huth said the spike in cases is the results of poor decisions two to four weeks ago, and the benefits of changes made today won’t be visible for another two to four weeks.

Thus, Melissa Vance, Wayne County Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, is going to work with their nearly 500 business members to emphasize safety on the job as well as away from work so they can have a strong close to a challenging year.

Mary Walker, who leads Wayne County Convention & Tourism, said local employees in the arts and museums, retail and restaurants are doing an incredible job overcoming challenges, but it will take efforts by the whole community to be able to save those businesses and organizations.

Amanda Marquis, executive director of The Leland Legacy senior housing and owner of The Corner Cafe restaurant at South Ninth and A, said one of her residents, a woman in her early 60s who suffered a stroke years ago and fights through many challenges with mobility, asks why those on the outside can’t just put a mask on to help keep others healthy.

Marquis said people wouldn’t get in a car with a drunken driver, so it doesn’t make sense to go to large gatherings such as weddings with 200 people with people who aren’t wearing masks.

“You can’t say, ‘Oh, I’m 30, I’m 40, I’m 50, I’ll get through it like the flu,” Marquis said. “We all have parents, we all have colleagues – there’s not anybody who you don’t come across in a day who could be dead if you gave them COVID-19.”

She notes the isolation her residents have faced for about eight months, and said that seniors who have successfully fought cancer or other ailments “don’t deserve to go out on COVID.”

Marquis expressed gratitude to local health officials for their responsiveness to her questions, and urged the community to show support for what they are doing to save lives.

“They’re not the dirty dogs of this,” she said.

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Millicent Martin Emery is a reporter and editor for the Western Wayne News.