Businesses in Berrien, Cass counties report disparities in mandate enforcement

SOUTHWEST MICHIGAN – Local health departments are often the first resource business owners encounter as they navigate evolving epidemic mandates from Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

In communities like Niles, where the location straddles the line between Berrien and Cass counties, the enforcement of mandates can vary, leaving residents questioning why.

One business owner who questioned enforcement was Amy Kidwell. Her business, Galaxy Roller Rink, 1120 Ontario Road in Niles, had its doors chained shut after documented violations of reopening against MDHHS epidemic mandates. Currently, roller rinks have been allowed reopen, while indoor dining and bars have not, according to an active MDHHS epidemic order. Kidwell’s violations during the closure of skating rinks resulted in calls to the Berrien County Health Department, where the case was elevated to the courts systems. BCHD Communications Manager Gillian Conrad said the case has now moved beyond the health department.

“This case is now in the hands of the judge,” Conrad said. “We have not had to move this far along in an enforcement action to date. This is the furthest things have gone.”

Another Niles business located in Berrien County, Harvest Café, at 2726 S. 11th St., has been given cease and desist letters from the health department.

“We have continued getting complaints about Harvest Café,” Conrad said. “We are continuing the route with enforcement.

Conrad said there are several steps the BCHD takes when interacting with businesses on the epidemic mandates.

“Our enforcement process always starts with education,” Conrad said. “We feel that it is extremely important for people to understand the ‘why’ behind the epidemic orders, like how they help protect the public’s health. If there are repeat or willful violations, then we are able to engage with our partners in law enforcement to elevate the matter.”

Other business and residents in Niles may reside in Cass County, where they are under a different health department’s purview, leading to a difference in enforcement

Rise n’ Shine Café, located at 2616 Detroit Road, in Niles, within Cass County, opened its indoor dining room against state epidemic mandates and continues to openly operate. Another Niles skating rink business, also within Cass County, was alleged to be operating during closure mandates.

Cass County is overseen by a joint health department shared with Van Buren County.

Larry Wile, medical director for the Van Buren/Cass District Health Department, said his job is to educate.

“We help businesses understand [the mandates], but they are coming down from the state and not the local [government],” Wile said. “The local health departments help explain what the state regulations are and when they come down from the governor. We certainly have empathy for business owners who can’t open their doors or can’t have indoor seating at restaurants at the county line. I understand people trying to earn a living.”

With massive vaccine rollout initiatives at the top of Wile’s priority list, he noted the department’s focus for staffing is oriented there, rather than mandate enforcement.

“We can help explain the mandates,” Wile said. “But as far as I know, we aren’t going out.”

Danielle Persky, deputy health officer and health promotions officers with the VBCCHD, confirmed her office takes a similar approach to the BCHD, but noted challenges her own department faces.

“Similar to Berrien [County Health Department], we take an educational approach first,” Persky said. “After education, if the situation is not resolved, we refer their case to the state department most appropriate for the violation. Given the limited capacity of our small department, we look to the support of state departments to assist with local enforcement issues related to the MDHHS orders.”

Edwardsburg

Ontwa Township Edwardsburg Police Log: Feb. 15-22

Dowagiac

SMC graduate experiences Super Bowl

Dowagiac

Dowagiac women aim to create change through local government

Dowagiac

SMC COVID task force leader talks with Dowagiac Rotary Club

Business

Niles roller rink reopens following legal battle

Berrien County

Michigan Works! announces community wide survey to learn about COVID-19’s impact

Cass County

Cass County prepares to adjust to criminal justice reforms

Berrien County

Michiana Family Center seeks mentors for foster teens

Business

Nobo Michigan opens Edwardsburg location

Cassopolis

Businesses battle over land use in Cassopolis’ Industrial Park

Dowagiac

Dowagiac Police Log: Feb. 19-24

Berrien County

Mount Calvary Baptist to host COVID-19 vaccination clinic March 5

Berrien County

COVID-19 UPDATE: Berrien County reports new COVID-19 death

Berrien County

Berrien County Health Department, Spectrum Health Lakeland give vaccination updates

Cass County

Applications open for Cass County Sheriff’s Community Scholarship

Berrien County

Berrien County commissioners send message to state on regionalizing COVID-19 approach

Cass County

Lewis Cass ISD to host superintendent interviews Monday

Cass County

Michigan Works! to open office in Cass County administration building

Business

Dollar General, marijuana microbusiness, Iron Shoe expansion coming to Niles

Dowagiac

Silver Creek Township Planning Commission tables short-term rental ordinance draft vote

News

New SOS online, self-service options coming soon

Business

Niles restaurant week to showcase 18 restaurants

Berrien County

COVID-19 UPDATE: Michigan reports 583,964 cases, 15,405 deaths

Cass County

Cass County GOP censures Congressman Fred Upton for vote against Marjorie Taylor Greene