Business in the COVID-era
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Several Madison County businesses have temporarily shut down due to concerns about COVID-19 exposure.
The business closures have been voluntary. According to the MCPHD, the department would notify the public if an outbreak were connected to any one business or event, but so far, that has not been necessary in Madison County. According to the Madison County Sanitarian Van Puckett, not all of the county’s over 400 licensed businesses have been compliant with Governor Steve Bullock’s orders.
“It’s the business owners’ responsibility to know,” Puckett said. “It is really important for people to look at the governor’s guidance… those answers are there for the most part.”
After the Fourth of July weekend, The Long Branch Saloon closed for two days to disinfect after the busy weekend. The Gravel Bar and The Bale of Hay Saloon have recently followed suit with temporary closures due to concerns about their employees.
Owner of the Gravel Bar in Ennis, Amy Kelley, said that she is witnessing masks being politicized in her bar and restaurant. More local guidance may help eliminate some of the politically charged perceptions. But the limited personnel at the Madison County Sanitarian Office is not in the position to officially restate the governor’s orders.
“The reality is that people are doing what they want to,” Madison Foods owner Chris Gentry said. “I personally don’t want a mask mandate in my business.”
Gentry said she would like to see everybody wearing masks, but her business would not be able to afford the associated costs of a mask mandate such as manning entrances and providing personal protective equipment.
“What I would recommend is to stick with one source [of information],” Madison County Sanitarian Van Puckett said. “Which is the one you’re responsible for as a business owner, which is the governor’s guidance. Until the Board of Health goes above and beyond that, that’s what we’re going to stick with.”
The MCSO through the county’s attorney office has the authority to issue fines and suspend licenses to establishments that refuse to follow the governor’s guidance. Puckett said that enforcement can sometimes bring resentment and that he would prefer to handle noncompliance outside of the county attorney’s office.
“If that person or establishment is found in gross disregard of the guidance, then yes, we would pursue it,” Puckett said.