Howard County is ratcheting up its fight against the spread of coronavirus.

The county commissioners passed an emergency ordinance late Wednesday declaring that a public health emergency exists in Howard County due to COVID-19.

Effective 5 p.m. Friday, the ordinance has put the county on an Orange travel advisory, recommending only essential travel, such as to and from work, to medical care, for food, groceries, medication and other essential goods and services.

The new restrictions also order the closure of all “non-essential” businesses for at least two weeks. If someone or a business were to not follow the ordinance, they would be breaking the law.

The new ordinance comes less than a week after the commissioner imposed its first set of restrictions that banned non-workplace public or private gatherings of 10 or more people, closed libraries, local entertainment venues and gyms through mid-April. The ordinance has the backing of Kokomo Mayor Tyler Moore and the Howard County Department of Health.

Commissioner Paul Wyman said the board decided to increase the restrictions to try and get “in front” of the spread of COVID-19 within the community. As of Thursday morning, Howard County had five confirmed cases of COVID-19 – the second highest in the state behind Marion County.

“People should be staying home,” Wyman said Thursday during an interview on WWKI. “Unless you absolutely have to be on the roads, you have to stay home. ...Let’s hunker down.”

The new restrictions will put more stress on local stores, many of whom were are already fighting to attract business and stay open during the pandemic.

“At this point we’re not hoping to thrive, we’re merely hoping to survive,” Shawn Hilton, owner of Comics Cubed, said.

Comics Cubed will be one of many businesses that will have to close their doors come Friday evening.

Hilton said he’s currently in talks with local government to see if he can implement curbside delivery. In the meantime, however, the business will be using Facebook Live to show customers inventory.

“It’ll almost be like a home shopping network-style situation,” Hilton said

Mike Wilson, owner of American Dream HiFi, will also be using Facebook Live to his advantage. The record store plans on selling gift cards and items on eBay.

“Every Wednesday Thursday and Friday from 5-6 p.m., I’m doing livestreams of the store itself,” Wilson said. “I’m going to be flipping through inventory and if customers want to buy inventory, they can just comment on the livestream and I’ll ship it directly to their house or if they buy like $50 or more I’m even offering delivery too.

“It’s sink or swim, and we’ve all been pretty good at swimming. Hopefully we’ll all get through.”

It’s not yet known if the restrictions will only last two weeks. Wyman said the county could reduce or increase the time the restrictions are in place depending on how the pandemic progresses.

“This is not an easy decision,” Wyman said. “I know a lot of people are going to be affected by this, but the flipside is doing nothing can have a catastrophic effect on our community. We need to take this seriously ... doing nothing is by far the greatest risk today.

“There’s no perfect answer to this because these are unprecedented times. In my lifetime, we’ve never had to deal with something like this. We’re making the best decisions we can.”

Tyler Juranovich can be reached at 765-454-8577, by email at tyler.juranovich@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter at @tylerjuranovich

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