Madison County extends state’s pandemic restrictions to other industries

Madison County has extended Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb’s stay-at-home order to a handful of “essential” industries in hopes of slowing the COVID-19 pandemic.

The county, which as of Tuesday night had three confirmed cases, ordered liquor stores, banks and insurance companies to cease normal operations and shift to offering only drive-thru, delivery and curbside services for an indefinite period. The county also limited funeral services to no more than 10 people, limited to family only.

All four industries are part of the governor’s list of essential business types that are permitted to continue operating throughout the state during the stay-at-home period, which starts Wednesday and lasts through April 7.

Madison County Health Officer Stephen Wright “has determined that certain measures should be put into place to lessen the potential spread of the COVID-19 virus and to slow the [pandemic], including the closing of some local businesses,” the order reads.

Any business that violates the county’s order is subject to a $2,500-per-day fine. 

The order isn’t likely to have much of an effect on some of the additional industries because many of the businesses that fall under the order are already operating on a limited basis. Most bank branches began closing lobbies last week. Liquor stores might feel the largest impact because most of them are still operating as usual, except with reduced hours in many cases.

The restrictions were part of a larger directive by Madison County’s commissioners escalating a March 20 local disaster emergency declaration, which also added two industries that were not classified as essential on the governor’s list: auto repair shops and veterinary clinics.

Madison County is believed to be the only central Indiana county imposing more stringent guidelines regarding which businesses qualify as essential—at least so far.

The county’s decision to expand the governor’s order left the Indiana Chamber—which has advocated for Holcomb and the Indiana State Department of Health to take the lead on the state’s coronavirus response—feeling uneasy.

“Certainly we would urge that we have one set of guidelines and that is the governor’s executive order,” said CEO Kevin Brinegar. “This is confusing enough and complicated enough, without multiplying that many times over by now having counties and cities weighing in.”

Other counties, including Hamilton, Hancock, Johnson and Morgan counties, have restricted access to certain public buildings for only essential business (by appointment only) or shut down public access altogether. Madison County took similar steps last week.

Madison County in its decree declared that previous health orders in the area had “made some progress, but not enough” to effectively stop the virus.

Brinegar said he does not expect the additional measures will help cut future cases, but is sympathetic to the county’s position.

“I understand the frustration of local government officials in areas where there’s been more cases, but I think the projections would indicate that those areas are going to see ongoing increases with and without any additional local measures,” he said.

Madison County officials could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

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