Restaurants, businesses urged to limit capacity to 25 percent as church services resume
By Erick Johnson
After two months of deserted streets and closed businesses, Gary reopened on Friday, May 22, kicking off a Memorial Day weekend where residents jammed parks and beaches as the city slowly began to return to normal.
A visit by a Crusader reporter on Wednesday revealed that most businesses and restaurants in the city remained closed after the city reopened.
With concerns of a second wave of infections, Gary leaders urged residents to remain cautious as restrictions were eased to allow businesses, restaurants and churches in the city to operate under new, relaxed guidelines. Bars, nightclubs and adult entertainment businesses were ordered to remain closed until further notice.
Mayor Jerome Prince delayed Gary’s reopening twice as some grew concerned that the city was not ready to return to normal as COVID-19 cases climbed to some of the highest levels in Lake County.
Last Friday, Gary became one of the last cities in Indiana to reopen after the state’s stay at home order was lifted and the coronavirus slowed down in towns throughout the state.
During the Memorial Day weekend, many residents from Illinois and Michigan joined those in Lake County and flooded the Indiana Dunes and Gary’s Miller Beach at Marquette Park. With summer weather and blue skies, some residents waited for hours in a traffic jam that reportedly stretched more than a mile at the Indiana Dunes. Many beachgoers sat close to one another as the temperature climbed to nearly 90 degrees in the afternoon.
While businesses reopened, City Hall remained closed, but was scheduled to open its doors on Wednesday, May 27, when department heads and managers were expected to return to work. Prince said all other city employees will return on June 1.
Meanwhile, Prince continued to urge residents to practice social distancing during the long holiday weekend as the COVID-19 death toll in Gary remained at 16 for a third week. Approximately 612 residents in Gary have been infected with the virus.
Statewide, as of May 26, Indiana had 32,078 COVID-19 cases and 1,850 deaths. Some 230,749 residents have been tested for the virus.
Nationwide, 98,902 people have died from COVID-19 and 1,680,625 Americans have been infected with the disease.
With no vaccine and large crowds flocking to beaches and parks in Indiana, Prince urged Gary residents to be “absolutely vigilant” during the holiday weekend.
“We cannot stop people from visiting our beaches, but, as Gary residents, we can be smart about how we interact with each other,” Prince said.
To help residents continue fighting the virus, Prince gave the following guidelines as the city’s economy starts to return to normal while the summer season nears.
Churches may now hold worship services with no more than 100 people at a time, with six-feet of separation between family units and individuals. Baptisms, weddings, funerals and other important ceremonies can be held but should be limited to 25 people at a time.
“We are easing restrictions on houses of worship. That does not mean the virus is no longer a public health threat. I strongly recommend faith leaders continue to offer on-line services.”
Local businesses and restaurants should limit their legal occupancy capacity to 25 percent. Businesses must post that occupancy on all entrances and near cash registers or other areas where transactions are made.
Barber shops, salons or other personal service businesses may reopen by appointment only.
Family picnics or get-togethers should have no more than 25 guests at a time.
Prince did not give any guidelines for fitness centers or gyms and it is unclear when libraries and public buildings will specifically reopen under the relaxed guidelines. Gary’s schools remain closed for the rest of the year and Governor Eric Holcomb has not announced whether they will reopen in the fall.
Prince urged residents 65 years old or older to continue staying home as much as possible. He urged all residents two years or older to continue wearing masks in public. Anyone older than two years of age should continue to wear a mask in public.