Colfax man claims denial of service at local store for potential COVID-19 connection

The store owner says they do not have a list of community members who may be connected to COVID-19 that they won't serve. The Clinton County Health Dept. says denying people service because of private health information could lead to problems.

Posted: Aug 17, 2020 9:49 PM
Updated: Aug 17, 2020 11:56 PM

CLINTON COUNTY, Ind. (WLF) - A Colfax man said he was denied service at the local food mart because his wife is getting tested for coronavirus.

"We're being ostracized and treated like this because we decided to make a conscious decision for our community," said Rick Watt.

Watt and his wife live several minutes away from the Colfax Food Mart, where Rick's wife worked, but quit over the weekend.

"Friday night she said my throat is sore. She works in a public place and has underlying health issues," he said. "They said you need to get tested and we want you to isolate for 10 days or until the negative test."

She got tested on Monday, and their whole family is isolating together. She also told her boss about getting the test done.

On Saturday, Watt said he needed gas from the Colfax Food Mart in order to make the 20 minute drive to Frankfort to get supplies for their quarantine. He said getting groceries is difficult from Colfax because the nearest box stores are in Frankfort, Lafayette, Crawfordsville or Lebanon. All of which are between 20 and 30 minutes away.

"I tried to get the ten dollars worth of gas just to get to town and the lady was like you can't be in here, I was like can you just take my ten dollars and I'll go get my gas, I don't need to be in here," he said. However, he said they still wouldn't serve him and ended up leaving.

Rick's wife did not want to be named in this story. She said as an employee, she was told names of people in the community suspected to have coronavirus and their family members. She said she was told not to serve any of them.

"I understand you're afraid to put your mask on and go into a store, you have that right, absolutely," he said. "You don't have the right to deny people service because you think they might be around someone with COVID."

Randy Dhillon is the owner of the Colfax Food Mart. News 18 talked to him off camera. He said they don't have such a list, but they do have the right to refuse service to anyone.

There are multiple signs outside the store that say, "If anyone in your household has tested positive for COVID, you are not allowed in the store!" He emphasized he is just trying to operate his business as safely as possible for the community in Colfax. He even has masks for sale for 50-cents that he said he would gladly give to someone for free if they didn't have any money to pay.

News 18 called the Clinton County Health Department to learn if businesses have a right to deny someone service for a suspected connection to COVID-19. Rodney Wann is the Health Department Administrator. He said he takes issue with the language "not allowed in the store" on the sign.

He said this is borderline discrimination that would be based on hearsay, since people's health information is private. He said entities can't take action until they have it confirmed that someone is positive with a positive test. And because of HPPA, a person does not have to share that information with anyone.

He said there is concern that a business practice like this would cause stigma to grow around coronavirus. This could cause people not to get tested, leading to the spread of the disease. He said this is especially possible in a small, close-knit community like Colfax.

Watt said for now, he, his wife and their children will all isolate together in order to keep themselves and the rest of their community safe.

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