As Tippecanoe County's number of positive cases recorded since March eclipsed 1,000 on Wednesday and Purdue's reopening approaches, local officials debated an extension of the capacity limits placed on bars.
With up to 40,000 college students arriving in mid-August, county health officer Jeremy Adler said he's most concerned about what students will do when they're off campus. Densely packed bars are an area he highlighted as spots for potential mass transmission of the coronavirus.
Adler was asked during Wednesday's coronavirus press conference whether he'd support a provision to close bars, similar to the order Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett issued July 23, which shut down bars until at least Aug. 12 to curb the spread of the virus.
The health officer demurred on closures, and instead supported an extension of the capacity restrictions Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb has in place under Stage 4.5 of his Back on Track plan. Holcomb announced later Wednesday this phase will remain in place until at least Aug. 27, limiting bar seating in restaurants, bars and nightclubs to 50% capacity.
"There's a reality check here: If the proprietors don't maintain a clean house, the eventuality is that they will be closed down," West Lafayette Mayor John Dennis said regarding the potential enactment of bar closures. "Because if this proliferates like it did early on, the COVID virus, then we shut down the entire state. Nobody wants to go back to that."
Dennis' July 13 mask mandate preceded Holcomb's order, which took effect Monday. The mayor said students who move into West Lafayette neighborhoods must adhere to those neighborhoods' rules or else face fines from the city.
Although Dennis has been clear no citations have been issued during the early "educational" weeks of his executive order, fines of $100 for first offenses and $250 for each subsequent offense are codified in the mandate.
"You might not like me for what I've done," Dennis said, referencing hundreds of aggrieved emails and phone calls he said he's received since issuing the order, "but you might hopefully appreciate the actions because it will keep everybody back in business."
Tippecanoe County reported 24 new cases of the virus on Wednesday, bringing the county's total to 1,019 positive cases. Of the cases, 678 people have recovered, 330 still carry the virus and 11 have died, Adler said.
One of the two Indiana State Department of Health free testing sites in Tippecanoe County will relocate from Durgan Elementary School in Lafayette to the former Happy Hollow Elementary School in West Lafayette, Adler said. Testing will begin at Happy Hollow on Monday.