County explores options regarding Circle K’s non-compliance of mask mandate
Kaitlyn Clay, Staff Writer, [email protected]
Much of a special meeting of the Harrison County Board of Commissioners last Wednesday afternoon was spent discussing how to handle businesses that are not compliant with the state government’s executive orders in regard to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
According to Carrie Herthel, administrator of the county health department, numerous complaints have been received regarding the Circle K gas station, located at the intersection of state roads 62 and 135 in Corydon, and its negligence to enforce the mask mandate, ultimately affecting the safety of Harrison County residents.
Herthel and county attorney Chris Byrd said numerous letters stating the mandates have been sent to Circle K, but they have received no response from anyone at Circle K. The letter also has been sent to any other businesses not compliant with the regulations.
The health department was at a loss as to what to do next about Circle K and was seeking guidance from the county officials.
Herthel said they were open to hearing any options the commissioners may have and would be in agreement with the possibility of shutting down the gas station for a period of time if it continued to not comply.
“The problem is, we have an executive order that says what we have to do if businesses don’t follow the rules, and either we do it or we are ignoring mandates from the state,” Dr. Andrew Morton, the health officer for the Harrison County health board, said. “That’s why we brought this issue to the commissioners. We are to refer back to the officials when we face these problems, which are you all. No one wants to shut a business down, but we would be negligent if we don’t follow the executive order.”
Commissioner Jim Heitkemper didn’t seem to think shutting down the business would be a good idea, due in part to the vast number of residents who frequent this location.
“Five times the amount of people go to Circle K, and I’ll just come out and say it is because it is one of the only gas stations not foreign-owned,” Heitkemper said during the teleconference meeting. “(Circle K) has a tremendous amount of business because they aren’t foreign-owned, and that’s the way it ought to be. People want to go there because of that.”
His follow-up questions to the health department ranged from how would the staff be able to stop people who won’t wear masks from entering the store to if the health department could pinpoint where the cases were coming from and if there was any proof the gas station was the culprit.
Herthel, Morton and Byrd all explained that if they were to shut a business down because of this, they believe in order to reopen the business would need to present a written plan on changes they intend to make in regard to mask enforcement and social-distancing regulations and then show their intent to follow through with the plan after reopening.
“I think if we do close them down, we should do it on Dec. 25, 26 and 27 only,” Heitkemper said while laughing. “Oh, I say that in jest because at the same time I am frustrated with this and always try to find some humor in things. I’d like to put a bouncer outside the door, but the guy would freeze to death.”
Commissioner Charlie Crawford suggested a compromise would be issuing an ultimatum in these situations, stating the expectations for businesses during this time to comply with the mandates and the suggestion of random site visits from the health department. And if there was still nothing done, the business would be instructed to shut down until changes were made.
Heitkemper agreed to try the ultimatum route that Crawford suggested, but both commissioners agreed that the letter would need to clarify what a business would need to do in order to reopen if a forced closure occurred. (Commissioner Kenny Saulman was not on the teleconference call.)
Crawford made the motion for Byrd to draft a letter to Circle K. Heitkemper seconded the motion, which passed 2-0.
“It’s so important for everyone to do their part in this pandemic,” Herthel said during the meeting. “Action plans and knowing how to maintain the governor’s mandates will help businesses stay on track.”
The commissioners have another special meeting planned for today (Wednesday) at noon. Agenda items include COVID-19 update from the health board, personnel issues and other county business.
Within the past week, Harrison County has had two additional deaths due to the coronavirus: an 84-year-old man with underlying health conditions and a 54-year-old man; it had not yet been reported if the 54-year-old had underlying health conditions.
These deaths bring the total in the county to 34, with two being clinical deaths.
An additional 587 Hoosiers have died from the virus since last week, bringing the total to 7,244.
The number of tests performed for the virus in the state reached 5,330,603, up from last week’s total of 5,000,278. To date, there have been 471,876 positive cases, up 37,234 since the previous week.
In the county, the number of tests performed increased by 695, reaching 14,085, since last week. There have been 2,346 positive cases of the virus, up 236 from the week before.