The four biggest cities in Hamilton County plan to follow state guidelines in reopening their economies.
Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb announced a five-stage plan May 1 to reopen the state after the COVID-19 pandemic led to all but essential businesses and operations shutting down. The next stage will begin May 4 for most of Indiana. It lifts the non-essential travel ban, allows retailers to open with restrictions and permits gatherings of up to 25 people.
Marion County – Carmel’s neighbor to the south – and Lake County can begin relaxing restrictions on May 11. They are the state’s two most populous counties and are seeing a higher rate of COVID-19 cases than other areas. Cass County will be allowed to reopen businesses May 18. It is the site of a recent outbreak at a Tyson Foods plant.
Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard said he and the mayors of Fishers, Westfield and Noblesville communicated after the governor’s announcement to make sure they were on the same page.
“All of us are going to follow the governor’s orders at this point,” Brainard said. “If something changes and Hamilton County started to veer off track for some reason, we’d consider (implementing tighter restrictions).”
Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett on April 30 extended his city’s stay-at-home order until May 15, leading to speculation that other mayors may do the same. Holcomb said local officials are permitted to enact tighter restrictions than the state.
Brainard said it didn’t make sense for Carmel businesses to remain closed if businesses can reopen across the street in Fishers or Westfield. He said it keeping Carmel’s economy closed when its neighbors are open does not prevent the spread of the virus but would be detrimental to the local economy.
Yet that’s just what’s happening along 96th Street, which runs along the Hamilton and Marion county border. Holcomb addressed the situation during his May 1 press conference.
“You could pick a line north, south, east or west wherever we are. Ultimately you’ve got to make a decision,” Holcomb said. “For Marion County, understanding the testing we have in place occurring here and understanding the (contact) tracing program will be up and running May 11, we felt more comfortable with May 11.”
Brainard said he supports Holcomb’s five-stage approach, which aims to return all of Indiana to business as usual by July 4.
“I was very pleased the governor did not just do a two-week plan and say we’ll reevaluate but rather laid out a phased plan all the way through Independence Day,” Brainard said. “He very clearly said it’s up to all of us here in Indiana as to whether this works or not.”
Brainard said he does not have plans to reopen Midtown Plaza and the section of the Monon Greenway between Main Street and Gradle Drive any time soon. Those areas have been closed since March 26 when they filled with crowds on one of the first days of the lockdown with beautiful weather.
“We may try (reopening) it another day with signage to remind people (to practice physical distancing) and see how it goes, but that’s an area that was built for people to congregate together,” Brainard said. “At some point in the future people will be able to do that again, and I can’t wait for that day to come.”