FORT WAYNE — Allen County and Fort Wayne officials imposed new restrictions Tuesday to reduce the rising spread of COVID-19.
DeKalb County Health Officer Dr. Mark Souder said DeKalb and other surrounding counties have agreed to follow Allen County’s lead “with minor exceptions.” He promised an announcement later this week.
“It looks like we’re just going to be running a joint, multiple-county approach to things,” Souder said. He intends to make some modifications to Allen County’s restrictions before issuing DeKalb County’s health order.
“There’s a couple of things they’re too strict in, and a couple they’re too loose in,” Souder said Tuesday afternoon about Allen County.
Allen County Health Commissioner Dr. Matthew Sutter said he expects surrounding counties to issue rules similar to his.
“We’ve been working closely with other health officers in the surrounding counties, and the vast majority of them will be signing orders that are either the same, or essentially similar, to these,” Sutter said about Allen County’s restrictions, which he and other Allen County officials discussed during a Tuesday-morning news conference.
“They would like the ability to tweak for their counties, but the message is clear that there is broad support for restrictions at this level in this region,” Sutter said. “We don’t want a patchwork quilt of every county doing their own thing — of everything being completely different when you pass a county line.”
Allen, DeKalb and other counties are expected to move to “red” status for high spread of COVID-19 when the state releases new ratings today.
Under red status, Allen County will:
• not approve plans for events with more than 100 participants;
• restrict restaurants and bars to 50% capacity indoors, but allow 100% capacity outdoors;
• require bars and restaurants to close from midnight to 5 a.m.;
• ban self-service salad bars or buffets;
• restrict gyms to 50% capacity.
No capacity restrictions will be imposed on stores or salons where people can wear masks, Sutter said.
“That means the store owners will need to police that,” he said about wearing of masks.
“What we’ve found is that masks are very effective, and enforcement is very difficult at this point,” Sutter said.
The Allen County order does not affect schools.
“Right now it appears that in school is the safest place outside the home for school-age kids,” Sutter said. “We are not seeing significant spread when people are in classrooms and wearing masks.”
Sutter called on people to avoid high-risk situations such as birthday parties, sleepovers and small family gatherings.
“I would urge people to stop, at this point, having multi-family gatherings,” Sutter said. “This is a great year for a Zoom Thanksgiving. … I really worry, as we move into the holiday season, if people continue to do things as normal.”
Souder said he is calling for renewed cooperation from citizens, asking people to avoid out-of-family gatherings and parties, for improved wearing of masks in retail stores and in grocery stores where older people have to shop.
Sutter said he wants to be sensitive to business owners in his orders, realizing that the pandemic has been hard on them.
“My goal, first and foremost, is for the health of the community,” he said.
“That’s the last thing we want to do, is have another shutdown,” said Allen County commissioner Richard Beck. He offered support for Sutter’s orders.
“Take these seriously because it is a serious situation,” Beck said.
“I believe that we need to take even stronger steps to protect our community.” Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry said.
Starting Monday, Fort Wayne will shut down its Citizens Square city government center and park facilities and order city employees except for public safety officials to work from home until Jan. 19, Henry said.
“I have a moral responsibility to protect my staff and those citizens who need services in this building,” the mayor said.
“We will do whatever it takes to protect our citizens, to protect our families,” Henry said. “I’m not sure that the vast majority of our citizens are listening. We need to put the hammer down, and we need to take appropriate action to convince our citizens that we’re serious about this.”