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Local health officials worried about moving to Stage 5

Published: Sep. 24, 2020 at 5:37 PM EDT
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) - St. Joseph County health officer Mark Fox says he was surprised at Governor Holcomb’s decision to move into the fifth and final stage of Indiana’s reopening plan this Saturday. Fox says part of the reason why is he has not seen a big change in the numbers.

For example, the 7-day COVID-19 case rate is only about 10 cases lower in St. Joseph County on Thursday (55.1) than what it was at the end of August (66.7).

On the other hand, the 7-day positivity rate throughout St. Joe County has seen a drop of nearly six percent in that same time-frame, but as Fox explains, it’s not enough to think Hoosiers are ready for the next stage.

“I’m surprised because I have not seen the kind of consistent improvement from our current stage that I would have expected to be the trigger to say, ‘Okay, now we can move forward,'" Fox says.

Fox also cites that the COVID-19 positivity rate across the state was roughly six percent in July, but has only dropped by two percent since then.

“One might argue that we kind of maintained status quo, but we certainly have not seen a sustained improvement that would give me the confidence to say, ‘Okay, increase capacity in bars and restaurants and other places,’” Fox says.

But despite restaurants and bars moving to full capacity in Stage 5, a new survey by the National Restaurant Association shows it may be too little, too late for most Indiana restaurants to recover. Of 3,500 Hoosier restaurants that were surveyed, 41 percent of them say they likely will not survive the pandemic if conditions do not improve over the next six months.

Roughly 88 percent of restaurant owners say sales were down compared to last year by an average of 37 percent dating back to August 2019.

Finally, 66 percent say they do not believe they will see sales return to normal over the next six months.

Jeff Rea, South Bend Chamber of Commerce President & CEO, says part of the reason why is while Governor Holcomb may be ready to move into Stage 5, most Hoosiers are not.

“People have gotten used to not going out, and I think there are still a fair amount of people that are still fearful about going out. I think you just don’t have the normal flow that you would because people have become accustomed to not going out as much and I think our restaurateurs would like to get them back in the habit of enjoying what the local restaurants have to offer," Rea says.

Stage 5 of Indiana’s reopening plan begins this Saturday, September 26th.

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