Coronavirus

Hamilton County: No added restrictions planned once state lifts COVID limits

CARMEL, Ind. (WISH) — Hamilton County government leaders have decided they are not going to put any new coronavirus restrictions in place when the state lifts its orders in less than two weeks.

But both county health leaders and individual business operators hope to have more guidance when the state mask mandate becomes only an advisory on April 6. Also on April 6, local officials will take control of any limits on the size of gatherings at various venues.

The Friday night crowd at Wolfies Grill seems to be back. Tables of people are eating, drinking and having a good time. “I think people are enjoying being able to get back out again,” said Alan Armstrong, the restaurant’s general manager.

Come April 6, there may be few changes. “We have to play the game by the rules,” Armstrong said.

With Hamilton County in a Blue Zone, the least-dangerous level on the state’s coronavirus dashboard, the only loosening of current restrictions for many restaurants would be pushing tables closer than 6 feet and not requiring customers or staff to wear masks.

But three days after the governor’s announcement and 11 days before the change, it’s not clear what will happen what will happen in Carmel, Noblesville, Westfield and other Hamilton County areas outside Fishers. Fishers has its own health regulators.

The Wolfies Grill manager said, “We’re waiting to see what the county says; then I’m waiting to see what my owner says to us. Then we’re going to go from there”

One thing that’s definitely not happening is a countywide mask mandate. With the Hamilton County sheriff announcing last summer he wasn’t going to enforce one, County Commissioner Christine Altman said Friday that putting a local mandate in place would be an exercise in futility.

“It is what it is. I’ll put it that way. I’m not going to second-guess what he believes,” she said.

Jason LeMaster, the Hamilton County Health Department administrator, said he will continue to monitor and evaluate conditions and metrics, and will act if the need exists. Until then, that means it will be up to private businesses to decide what they want their rules to be.

With the possibility for various mask rules at different venues, county commissioners decided to continue to require masks for county government buildings. “That’s exactly why the county chose to continue our mask mandate because I have over 1,000 employees that I want to protect,” Altman said.

The Republican county commissioner said, with Indianapolis and stricter rules just a county line away come April 6, there may be some problems. “I think we’re going to have unfortunate confusion if county-by-county we all have different rules.”

For Wolfies restaurant and other businesses in Hamilton County, in less than two weeks, instead of them enforcing the state’s rules or even the county’s rules, it will be them enforcing their own rules. Restaurant manager Armstrong acknowledged, whatever that rule is, it will be a different dynamic.

“I’m sure there will be, but we’ve got a great clientele here. A lot of them we see every day. We have a good time here,” he said.

Armstrong hopes it’s a good time, no matter the restrictions or lack thereof. “I think it’s not going to matter one way or the other. I think people are used to it.”

More than a dozen other restaurants had a similar response when informally polled by News 8. Their operators didn’t know what they’re going to do April 6; they’re still wanting to know more from the Hamilton County Health department before they decide.

LeMaster, the county health administrator, said although the governor’s orders are expiring, he expects to get more written guidance from the state before April 6.

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