‘Beyond discouraging’: Indianapolis businesses ignoring pandemic rules prompt crackdown

Marion County officials on Tuesday said they are cracking down on businesses that violate public health orders aimed at reducing the spread of the novel coronavirus. 

Instead of warnings, the Marion County Public Health Department will start issuing $1,000 fines when a business fails to follow certain requirements, including social distancing rules, capacity limits and a face mask mandate. 

The announcement came a day after the health department issued a notice of violation to the Indianapolis Speedrome for operating above capacity and not enforcing a county-wide face mandate during a Saturday event. 

“The education and warning period is over,” Marion County Health Department Director Dr. Virginia Caine said at a Tuesday morning news conference. 

Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett gave similarly strong words of warning. He called the sight of people packed in venues over the weekend “beyond discouraging” and said he is “pleading” with residents and businesses to follow public health orders.

Coronavirus:Marion County bars, nightclubs ordered to remain closed

The Speedrome and Jack’s Barbershop downtown are the only two Marion County businesses that have been fined for noncompliance, according to health department spokesperson Curt Brantingham. 

The Speedrome declined to talk to IndyStar on Tuesday. A message was left with Jack’s Barbershop. 

Brantingham said more than 400 complaints have been received, and all of them are investigated. 

Caine said 10 to 20 employees are enforcing public health orders, and the health department plans to increase that pool of workers. Businesses found to be “egregious” violators can be fined up to $1,500 for every day of non-compliance.

Caine had another warning: “Don’t forget we can shut businesses down as well.”

Indy Chamber CEO Michael Huber said in an emailed statement that rebuilding the local economy depends on containing the virus, “and that requires taking direction from our medical and public health experts.”

But Huber said businesses that aren’t repeat offenders and “operating in good faith” should continue to be granted a warning. 

As of Tuesday, more than 16,000 cases of the novel coronavirus and 730 deaths have been reported in Marion County since March. Statewide, where the total case count exceeds 75,800 and the death toll is over 2,800, the numbers hit record daily highs last week. 

In his update Tuesday, Hogsett said indoor and outdoor dining will remain at 50% capacity. Bars and nightclubs are ordered to remain closed until further notice. 

The seven-day average rate of people testing positive for coronavirus in Marion County was 9.3% (July 28-Aug. 3), according to state data, while the statewide positivity rate was 7.7% (July 29-Aug. 4). 

But Caine said some data points show signs of progress in the county’s effort to contain the coronavirus. 

In the past week in Marion County, hospital admissions have decreased to about 18 patients per day, Caine said. Emergency room visits also have started declining.

Contact IndyStar reporter Elizabeth DePompei at 317-444-6196 or edepompei@indystar.com. Follow her on Twitter: @edepompei.