Health department cracks down on violations

Coronavirus Watch Indiana

EVANSVILLE, Ind. (WEHT) – Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb’s new restrictions took effect on Sunday and local health officials are cracking down on businesses who are not complying. There have been 100 COVID-19 deaths in Vanderburgh County. As the death toll rises, health restrictions get stricter and so is the enforcement.

Some pictures obtained by Eyewitness News show a large number of people packed into what appears to be two Evansville bars, Lamasco and Bud’s, both on Franklin Street.

We questioned the owners of both bars about the pictures. They told us the pictures aren’t recent. Although a post on Facebook indicates the pictures at Bud’s were taken just two weeks ago on Halloween night. Comments under the pictures call the crowd that night “crowded” and “packed,” someone even writing, “We hadn’t seen a crowd like that since before the shutdown.”

The health department says it’s common for people to send them pictures and videos showing large crowds at different businesses.

“When we do, we do reach out and try to educate and work with them and follow up,” said Vanderburgh County Health Department Administrator Joe Gries.

Eyewitness News also obtained a cease and desist letter written to the Franklin Street Tavern citing big crowds accumulating at the bar.

That letter was written using the Vanderburgh County Health Department’s letterhead. Although, officials at the health department won’t confirm or deny it’s their document. A source with knowledge of the situation confirmed the pictures and documents are a part of the health department investigation. Businesses defying COVID-19 regulations are fined $250.

Health department officials did confirm the Hornet’s Nest on Petersburg Road was recently shut down.

“We were working with them on all the different protocols they needed to follow as far as mask mandates and other things. Just the process that we have,” explained Joe Gries.

While the health department was working with the restaurant to train its staff on health guidelines, the restaurant posted on Facebook that they were closed for remodeling.

“We are satisfied that they are doing everything they need to do to really make sure people are doing, not only their staff but their patrons, are doing everything they need to do.”

The new guidelines in Governor Eric Holcomb’s executive order are stricter for community members than restaurant and bar owners. Anyone having events larger than 50 people could face consequences that are still being decided on among state and local health leaders.

“The governor’s order and basically what they included in that is enforcement through a state excise, but also Homeland Security. We will be working with them here locally,” said Gries.

Businesses are exempt from that event cap, but they do need to have a system in place enforcing mask mandates and social distancing. With this new executive order restaurants and bars are still expected to promote social distancing and mask wearing unless someone is eating or drinking.

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(This story was originally published on Nov. 16, 2020)

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