Dining in local restaurants, bars and theaters is prohibited as of midnight Thursday, March 19, in Marshall County.  Public gatherings are limited to 10 people as of midnight, with some exceptions, and the courthouse was closed to the public at 5 p.m. Thursday until further notice.

County commissioners made those decisions at a special meeting Thursday afternoon at the courthouse  to combat the spread of coronavirus. About 12 county officials attended.

No more dining will be allowed inside restaurants, dining facilities, bars, taverns, clubs and theaters. Carry-out and delivery orders will still be allowed.

The decisions were recommended by county public health officer Dr. John Ryan. All three decisions are in effect until further notice.

The 10-person gathering limit has exceptions. They include religious gatherings as long as those present stay at least six feet apart, city or county government meetings, federal government operations, funerals or memorial services, childcare locations, residential care centers and group homes for the disabled, hotels or motels, military and National Guard facilities, jail, natural disaster response crews, food pantries, hospital, apartment complexes, grocery stores, convenience stores, manufacturing facilities, office spaces, public transportation, utility facilities.

County health nurse Sue Rhodes said it is only a matter of days until the county has its first coronavirus case. No one tested had shown up positive as of Thursday. She said the virus is spreading because people have traveled.

“This is going to be a huge psychological, mental and physical change for everybody,” Rhodes said. “It’s just going to be hard. Neighbors are going to have to help neighbors. They’re going to have to start calling and checking on their older neighbors.”

County counselor Jason Brinegar urged strong measures to prevent the virus’ spread.

“The harsh reality is it is coming,” Brinegar said. “It will either overwhelm us or we are going to get through it. I’ve been told by the health care professionals I’ve talked to that there is no such thing as an overreaction. I think that is why we should be overreacting. You gotta get your food. You gotta get your services you need to survive. But I don’t think there is necessarily anything that needs to be done over the next two weeks that can’t be pushed down the road.”

Brinegar said this is a situation where people will look back and say the precautions were unnecessary or it will be “incredibly devastating.”

County commissioner Keith Bramhall said it goes against every fiber of his being to tell a business what to do, but he understands at this time it is necessary.

Ways to communicate updates on the situation were discussed. Marysville Police Chief Todd Ackerman said assistant chief Matt Simpson had public information officer training and could disseminate updates to radio stations, Blue Valley Television, newspapers and social media.

Blue Rapids city clerk Chrystal Busey asked whether the county could set up a coronavirus testing site in the Valley Heights area so residents in Waterville and Blue Rapids could get tested without having to travel to Marysville.

Rhodes said that Busey’s request could be a possibility if more testing is necessary. As of Thursday, 11 tests have been conducted in the county and all have gotten negative results.

Commissioner Tom Holle suggested setting up a drive-through testing site.

County Treasurer Jami Ellenbecker asked that the courthouse be closed because so much of her office’s work involves passing paperwork back and forth with customers.

Marshall County District Magistrate Judge Angie Hecke said the state has put all court actions on hold except in urgent situations and all hearings are being continued until May.

In regard to keeping public gatherings under 10, Brinegar said law enforcement could treat it as a criminal matter but he recommended that officers disperse groups and educate them on the situation instead of making arrests.

Undersheriff Tim Ackerman said it would be counterproductive to arrest large groups of people.