Many Henry County residents have been worried since Sunday afternoon about whether they were actually allowed to go to work or not.

And some have been worried about their bosses telling them to show up, even though the Henry County Commissioners ordered all “non-essential” businesses to close until May 23

County and New Castle officials passed an emergency public health ordinance Sunday to enforce the county’s “Orange Level” travel restriction stating people should only be on the road for essential activities, such as grocery shopping or heading to a doctor’s appointment, for the next two months.

Sunday’s ordinance listed several businesses as “essential” during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Those essential businesses – gas stations, pharmacies, etc. – can remain open during the public health emergency.

Governor Eric Holcomb followed the Henry County leaders by issuing a statewide “Stay At Home” order Monday that lasts until April 7.

Essential critical infrastructure workers

In that executive order, Holcomb included information about a formal list of essential industries that can remain open during the public health emergency.

The Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), a part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, published the list March 19 to help local governments identify “essential critical infrastructure workers” during emergency shutdowns.

“Functioning critical infrastructure is imperative during the response to the COVID-19 emergency for both public health and safety as well as community well-being. Certain critical infrastructure industries have a special responsibility in these times to continue operations,” CISA said. “Promoting the ability of such workers to continue to work during periods of community restriction, access management, social distancing, or closure orders/directives is crucial to community resilience and continuity of essential functions.”

According to CISA, people in healthcare, communications, transportation and logistics, water and wastewater, financial, energy and agriculture fields, to name a few, are essential workers.

Henry County’s public health emergency ordinance (Ordinance 2020-1-3-12), allows the county commissioners, the Mayor of New Castle or the Henry County Health Department to give local businesses exemptions to keep working.

“I have been working tirelessly the last couple of days working through that whole process,” Henry County Health Department Administrator Angela Cox said.

Cox said if the local factory makes a part for an essential business, then that local factory is considered “essential” as well.

Cox said some Henry County manufacturers actually already had letters from CISA before the commissioners raised the local travel and business restrictions.

“They’ve had these before and had them in place that designates them as critical to the infrastructure,” Cox said. “They may produce a critical part that’s needed... There’s lots of possibility.”

For example, Walmart and Meijer superstores are listed as essential because they have groceries and pharmacies. Some also offer vehicle maintenance services.

While those stores are open, they can still sell video games and other “non-essential” items, too.

The same philosophy goes for a Henry County factory that produces one specific component for an essential industry; they can keep running full production of other “non-essential” products while they are open.

More information can be found at https://www.cisa.gov/publication/guidance -essential-critical -infrastructure-workforce

Must still protect employees

Henry County business might be able to keep working through the coronavirus outbreak, but they cannot treat this time like business as usual.

“Even though they fall into this waived category, in this particular situation we are in, they have to follow social distancing and cleaning and sanitation,” Cox said.

Cox said the local manufacturers she’s talked to have been planning those policies and procedures since the threat of COVID-19 showed up in the country.

“They have done extraordinary things to work toward following those guidelines,” she said.

Some factories have installed hand sanitation stations throughout the plant. Others have changed shifts or added shifts so they can continue operating with fewer employees in one location at the same time.

“There’s been a lot of questions about that,” Cox said.

Cox said some local companies are contacting her office at health.department@henrycounty.in.gov, while others are contacting Indiana’s “Critical Industries Hotline” directly at covid response@iedc.in.gov or 877-820-0890.

A full list of local exempt companies was not available at press time Wednesday.