MERIDIAN — Meridian Mayor Robert Simison enacted on Friday a social distancing order that effectively will force bars, restaurants and other businesses to close for the next 15 days.
The order says patrons of indoor and outdoor venues and events cannot congregate in groups of more than 10 people at one time, and must keep six feet or more between each patron/group. The order will be enforced by the Meridian Police Department, and those who don’t comply will be cited for a misdemeanor.
“This is a measured first step for our community,” Simison said during a press conference at Meridian City Hall. “It’s probably not the last step that we will have to take … but it’s the right one, based upon the information provided to me by those that have a lot more information than we do as a city.”
Ada County as of Friday evening had nine confirmed cases.
Venues affected by the Meridian social distancing order include, but are not limited to, bars, restaurants, food courts, gyms and other indoor and outdoor venues where groups of people congregate. The order does not impact take-out, delivery, and curbside pickup services — those services are encouraged, a city news release said. Venues providing “critical services, such as grocery stores and food banks” are exempt, the release said.
Sites providing social services, medical facilities and government agencies also are exempt.
Simison said it’s ultimately up to Meridian residents and businesses to take responsibility for the community’s safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The decisions you make about where you go and your family go need to be made by each one of you individually,” he said. “Conversely, if you have a place of business, it is your social responsibility to ensure the health and safety of your employees and your patrons. Should you choose to remain open during these times, it’s on you to help make sure that everyone who enters your place of business is taken care of (to the best) of your ability.”
Simison said the city enacted the order based on information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Central District Health and Gov. Brad Little’s office. The Meridian City Council on Tuesday passed a resolution declaring a state of emergency for 30 days. The council also passed an ordinance granting the mayor the power to enact the social distancing order.
Meridian Police Chief Jeff Lavey said during the press conference that anybody who fails to comply with the ordinance is subject to a misdemeanor citation. The business owner likely would be charged with the crime, he said.
“Obviously we can’t arrest everybody, so what we’re doing is asking you to do the right thing, make the responsible choice,” Lavey said. “But, if you force our hand we will write a report, we’ll forward it to the prosecutor, and we’ll prosecute you to the full extent of the law at the appropriate time.”
The city will later reevaluate whether the social distancing order will continue for another 15 days, Simison said.
“I didn’t want to give the impression that this was long term,” he said. “It will be evaluated every day whether or not we need to modify or change.”
Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify that the social distancing order says patrons of indoor and outdoor venues and events cannot congregate in groups of more than 10 people at one time, and must keep six feet or more between each patron/group.