WEST LAFAYETTE – As Dr. Jeremy Adler, Tippecanoe County’s health officer, faces mounting pressure from community leaders to ease local restaurant and bar restrictions, Purdue President Mitch Daniels and others on campus encouraged him to stand firm, even after the rest of the state was cleared to reopen at full capacity.
In a letter dated Monday, Daniels and members of the Protect Purdue implementation team urged Adler to wait at least a month to make a move. They wrote that keeping Purdue’s campus, reopened in August to a record enrollment for the fall semester, could depend on it.
“The data on COVID-19 community spread gathered over the past nine months clearly indicate that indoor venues such as restaurants and bars represent the most risky of environments,” Daniels wrote.
“Many of our large university peers have seen major COVID-19 outbreaks in their communities specifically linked to crowded bars,” Daniels wrote. “We are concerned that any relaxation of restrictions on restaurants and bars at this time could undermine our efforts to mitigate the spread of the virus on and off campus, ultimately affecting our ability to continue residential learning with the economic challenges that will bring to the community.”
The letter also was signed by Eric Barker, College of Pharmacy dean, Dr. Esteban Ramirez, chief medical officer of the Protect Purdue Health Center, and Carol Shelby, Purdue’s director of environmental health and public safety.
The letter also carried the names of leading doctors from Lafayette’s two hospitals, Dr. James Bien, chief medical officer at Indiana University Health Arnett, and Dr. Daniel Wickert, vice president of medical affairs at Franciscan Health Lafayette.
The letter came less than a week after Adler said he was considering changes to a local health order that kicked in Aug. 14. In particular, Adler said he could be open to modifying a mandatory closing time of midnight for seating in bars and restaurants across Tippecanoe County.
READ THE LETTER: Protect Purdue team: Don’t risk campus reopening by loosening bar, restaurant restrictions
When Adler broached that subject during a public health briefing on Sept. 23, Lafayette Mayor Tony Roswarski and Tippecanoe County Commissioner Tracy Brown pressed him to make changes sooner rather than later. They said bars and restaurants were trying to hold things together under pandemic-related restrictions.
In particular, Roswarski re-upped a suggestion he’d made in early September: Give restaurants and bars until 1 a.m. to seat late-shift workers to recoup some of what’s been lost. Roswarski contended than an extra hour dedicated to late-night spots – particularly those in Lafayette that were far from near-Purdue bars Adler was initially targeting with the restrictions – was unlikely to produce more COVID-19 cases. But he said an extra hour could be the difference between some places surviving or permanently closing.
More: Late-night bar, restaurant restrictions too much, Lafayette mayor tells health officer
Adler was not immediately available Tuesday to say where he was in a possible change in the restaurant and bar restrictions.
But last week, he pushed back against the idea of moving too quickly, saying that monitoring bars and restaurants was crucial in stopping the spread of COVID-19. He said he’d let the data drive his decisions.
“The idea with these restrictions is to be proactive, rather than reactive, and to stay one step ahead of this pandemic,” Adler said last week.
On Saturday, Gov. Eric Holcomb moved Indiana to the fifth and final phase of the state’s reopening plan, after months of restrictions that started with a shutdown in March. Among the changes: Restaurants would be allowed to open at full capacity, rather than 75 percent, provided they could maintain six-foot social distance requirements.
Adler answered that late last week by reminding restaurants and bars that his health order was still in place.
More: Purdue suspends 14 students, including 13 athletes, for party that violated Pledge
Among the local rules in Tippecanoe County: Restaurants are still limited to 75 percent capacity, including outdoor seating; bars are limited to 50 percent of capacity; bars and restaurants must close, other than for carryout, delivery or drive-throughs, at midnight; no seating is allowed at the bar after 9 p.m.; Table top seating is required for customers not seated at the bar and patrons “must require patrons to remain seated at their table;” and dance floors remain closed.
More: COVID-19: Bar seating returns for Greater Lafayette dinner time, health officer agrees
Daniels endorsed the initial health order in August, when Adler timed it for the return of students to campus.
In the letter from Purdue, Daniels and the others acknowledged to Adler that “there are calls for you to relax some of the restrictions.”
“We request delay of any major changes in restaurant and bar restrictions until the full impact of Phase 5 reopening can be assessed and we have several more weeks of the semester completed,” Daniels’ letter read.
“As we approach Oct. 31, we will have a clearer picture on the stability of COVID-19 cases on campus and within our community,” he wrote. “If at that time our community health seems stable, a phased loosening of restaurant and bar restrictions might be warranted.”
More: Purdue students account for 74% of Tippecanoe’s COVID-19 cases in first month of semester, pushed by campus testing
At Purdue, as of the most recent update Tuesday, 825 students and 37 employees had tested positive for coronavirus since Aug. 1. Of those, 209 student cases have come in the past seven days of random surveillance testing of 10 percent of the student body each week, according to Purdue’s COVID-19 dashboard. Purdue’s positivity rate over the past seven days was 3.98 percent. Tippecanoe County’s rate was 3.8 percent. Statewide, it was 6.9 percent.
As of Tuesday, Tippecanoe County had a moving seven-day average of 43 cases, the highest number during the pandemic, according to Indiana State Department of Health data. When Purdue classes started Aug. 24, Tippecanoe County’s seven-day average was 18.
Barker said Tuesday that Purdue had an increase in cases in a pair of congregate housing situations. Those houses, he said, were under full quarantine. Barker said the daily positive number on campus has remained fairly consistent at 25 to 30 a day. Purdue also reported that 54 of its 940 available beds to isolate students who test positive were being used, as of Monday.
More: ‘A lot of crossed fingers’: Purdue’s campus reopening ‘manageable’ so far, as other schools retreat, higher ed monitors Mitch Daniels’ plan
Purdue is expected to have in-person classes and residence halls open until Thanksgiving, before students finish the last several weeks of the semester remotely.
Barker said the Protect Purdue team was watching for signs of people letting down their guard, given Indiana’s move to fully reopen.
On Monday, Purdue suspended 14 students – including 13 student-athletes – for attending a party in a residence hall that didn’t observe Protect Purdue Pledge guidelines, which include wearing masks and maintaining social distance.
“We would be concerned that people will misinterpret our status – we are not in the clear,” Barker said. “To date, our students have done a good job of building a safe culture, but we must remain vigilant and not become complacent. We have many more weeks to go.”
FOR MORE: To read the full letter from Mitch Daniels to Dr. Jeremy Adler, go to jconline.com and click on the link to this story.
Reach Dave Bangert at 765-420-5258 or at [email protected]. Follow on twitter: @davebangert.
This article originally appeared on Lafayette Journal & Courier: Mitch Daniels, Protect Purdue leaders urge Tippecanoe Co. health officer to stand firm on local bar, restaurant restrictions