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Ask The Mayor: Bloomington's Hamilton On COVID Spike, Election

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Unknown Speaker
Welcome, everybody to Wi Fi you live on Facebook. This is the Ask the mayor show we do once a week with Terre Haute, Columbus, Nashville and Brown County. Today we're with Bloomington Mayor john Hamilton a day early. But we're still glad to have you. Thanks for being with us today.

Unknown Speaker
Thanks, Joe. I appreciate it. Good to be with you.

Unknown Speaker
Let's just start with where to start. We'll get to the election in just a little bit. But we have to start with COVID. That predicted spike or wave they were talking about is here, just Saturday at 500 cases in the state hospitalizations at an all time high. We've reported on refrigerated trucks for bodies being ordered in Vigo County. ICU beds 26%, available in the state governor had new restrictions that we reported on Friday, though there's a caveat with that, that they're not that mandatory. So where are we right now?

Unknown Speaker
Well, we're we're in a dangerous area, Joe. You know, I think everybody probably follows the national news and sees that. Nationally, we've we've dramatically seen a rise in cases from we've had the first time of 100,000 cases in a day about 10 days ago. Now we're approaching 200,000 cases a day. Almost every state is increasing in cases locally here in Indiana, our state is going to very rapid rises in cases in September, just to put a pin in this in September, we were seeing about eight or 900 cases a day as the moving average. Just today I saw we we almost reached 6000 cases a day. On the moving average that's from less than 1000 cases a day, to nearly 6000 cases a day in about four or five weeks. That's a really rapid rise. And when you see those cases increasing, you know two things are going to follow more hospitalizations because they come a little slower than the case arises and deaths too. Now we're, you know, the health care system doctors and nurses are doing way better. They're doing great trying to take care of people but we will see those rise too. So here very locally in Bloomington, we're doing better than the state. We're one of only five counties and the only urbanized county that was not subject to the governor's orders. The governor finally took action after the election. I think he's behind the curve a little bit. They're not moving quickly enough. We in this area have moved more quickly in July with a lot of restrictions. But even in Monroe County, we're seeing rises in cases we're seeing rises in hospitalizations. We I know in my in my departments we've seen we actually had three cases we'll be announcing today on Monday, the 16th shortly. So the virus is here, the virus is not on break the virus is as we get indoors, more, it's spreading more. So it's these are really challenging times to get between now. And when the vaccine will be available of a few months at least, is really challenging.

Unknown Speaker
And the state has about a 22% This is a seven day unique positive, Monroe County 11% kind of hinted toward that one of the few counties in that yellow metric, but on the verge of orange and like the almost all the state is in the orange metric. But what what needs to happen, I think everyone or what I'm reading is that people are in this COVID pandemic, fatigue and letting their guard down. What What does, what do people need to do? What does government need to do to get this back on track? Because waiting for a vaccine isn't always the answer to is it?

Unknown Speaker
No, we you know, obviously a vaccine will be important, but it's not going to be a silver bullet quickly. One thing I it's important remember, even with all this rise in cases nationally and locally, the vast majority of us 95% plus have not had this disease. So there is a huge population that is ripe for this disease to spread to. Even as our cases increase, you know, the capacity to grow a lot more is very dangerous. It's a deadly disease, it can overwhelm our healthcare system. So we are reminded that even even when we're fatigued, doing the right things of masking of not getting in large groups and large group can be eight people. I mean, it's really trying to stay close to your family household members. I heard an epidemiologist over the weekend, say just don't share air with people that you don't live with. Don't be in a place because sharing that air is how this disease passes. So we really got to be careful. There's a huge risk for for major additional Spread locally, we'll be looking at more restrictions, we've been more restrictive than the state. And I think that's helped us. with smaller gathering size limits. And with an earlier mask mandate that we put in place, we may need to look at additional things that you've seen him around the country with closing hours and different different kinds of events and activities being restricted again, because we are, as I've often said, we're not out of the woods now. We're, I'm not sure we can see the edge of the woods yet. So it you really just have to get over this fatigue in order to protect each other.

Unknown Speaker
Well, then it's getting colder out, people are spending more time indoors and Thanksgiving is coming up really soon. Catherine sent in an email to us saying she wants to travel She needs a COVID 10 rT PCR test within five days of departure. But I've we've gotten a few emails from people wanting to know where they can get that rapid test because they want to go see family.

Unknown Speaker
Look rapid tests, those that are done in 15, or 30, or minutes or so are hard to come by. They're not the most accurate. IU is relying much more on the 24 hour 48 hour, PCR I think they're called tests. And we need a lot more testing, when we said this months ago that there should be much more testing available. It hasn't happened we're doing all that we can locally and I used to and a lot but but this is a really important point to even if you get a negative test, you still can be infectious. It might miss it. They're not all accurate. I had two negative tests. When I found out later I have antibodies I was sick. But even if you do get a negative accurate test, you could be infected and infectious within an hour. It's really hard to know and when it reminds us we just have to be careful. treat each of us as if we might be infectious or or who we are with may be infectious. Nothing, nothing against anybody. It's not a moral failing. It's just protecting, you know, in the in the holidays, we really need to stick to our households to avoid big spreads this Thanksgiving. It's it's a big concern.

Unknown Speaker
We talked about some of those restrictions the governor put into effect, although I don't think they include businesses, churches, schools. Joyce writes in wants to know why our church is exempt. Do you know anything about that?

Unknown Speaker
Well, at the state level houses of worship generally were treated, I think independently from some of the other restrictions they've been in. I think in the current state order, they are still encouraged to protect, I would say this. I know I've met with religious leaders in our community. I think the religious communities are generally very careful with how they behave and how they act with their congregations, their groups that many, many of them have people who are who are at some risk so I am not aware of significant spread through religious activity now weddings, receptions, you know even even a Bible study if you're if you're not careful, any any grouping of people, particularly indoors, is dangerous. So those are those are worthy of real attention. But I'm just not aware of the houses of worship being a real super spreader that we've seen in the last few months.

Unknown Speaker
Bobby emails and wants to know How do you put in a complaint on a business for not wearing masks?

Unknown Speaker
You should call the county health department. Now I will let you know that in terms of individual mask wearing either by customers. We tend to depend upon the businesses to implement those rules. If there are employees of the business that are not wearing them that that's a subject subject to the business's oversight and the county health department has regulations to enforce that they actually have several new compliance officers to help with that too. So be in touch with the county health department. You can call the non emergency police number which I believe is 812-339-4477 for after hours reporting.

Unknown Speaker
Tina sends in a message who is monitoring the parks. She sees very few adults and children wearing masks.

Unknown Speaker
Well the parks are if they're city parks, you know their their city parks, their county parks, their state parks, different kinds of parks but generally in our in our county we have a requirement that you wear a mask when you're within six feet of each other. We we monitor that. It is true and we inform people we distribute masks we offer masks to folks. It is true that generally we are not finding or or worse individuals Who declined to wear a mask. And overall, I would say in the community, our mask wearing is very strong. There are certainly incidents where it's not we've had celebrations after a football game, for example, surprising when that had a lot of unmasked people. Those are dangerous, they shouldn't happen. I know the university has discipline some of those students. And we will continue to work to inform people about that. I

Unknown Speaker
was wondering if you had any information about kind of going along with what you just said about curis and Kirkwood and the other Kilroy bars that we're gonna open, like many of the bars already have. And then they said, due to external circumstances, they were going to postpone their opening to the city or I you have anything to do with that?

Unknown Speaker
You know, I really don't know their decision, Joe, I haven't been in touch with them. I did speak with one of the owners of Kilroy. Before they open when they announced their plans to open and indicated, we were concerned that they had not reached out to us ahead of their opening directly to coordinate their plans. And I simply indicated it was going to be really important that they open in a way that was safe, and that complied with all the rules. And they chose and I again, I haven't been in touch since then they chose not to open that was the kind of the first home football weekend that they chose not to open. And I haven't heard anything since. from them. bars and restaurants. It is critically important nightclubs, that people behave appropriately, which means only seated service masks whenever you're not at your table, only groups of relatively small numbers and the table separated. We've seen some problems with that in some of the area nightclubs or bars. And I wouldn't be surprised if there's some actions to make sure that doesn't get repeated because the stakes are high and the numbers are increasing. And we we have to really be diligent about compliance.

Unknown Speaker
Do you have a grasp right now on the Bloomington economic outlook, I know a few businesses have closed learned about another one this weekend around the square. You know, obviously the concern is keeping people safe. And but then you have that, that weight the other wave of businesses that are really hurting, especially with the students that will be leaving for Thanksgiving and supposedly not coming back until February? Well, the

Unknown Speaker
economy is hurting, there's no question about it. We know certain segments of the economy are hit significantly worse. Hospitality and hotel and PR some of the personal services sectors have been hit really hard. Some business closings are very visible, if you have a restaurant or a storefront that's closed. A lot of businesses that are getting hit and closing are not as visible their sole proprietorships or their service industries and others. Our unemployment rate is down from what it was in April significantly, but some people aren't looking for work. We know there are a lot of people that have challenges meeting rent, there are a lot of landlords and tenants who are struggling together, I hope they're working together. It is a reminder, we definitely need more stimulus package from the federal government to keep helping people. You know, when when you have a restaurant or a facility that needs to close. It's nobody's fault. It's not the employees fault. It's not that proprietors fault. And we don't want to have, you know, terrible damage to them. As a result of that we really want to help people do the right thing, protect each other. So the economy is you know, it's taken it on the chin. We've invested as you know, and recover forward, got my logo, I think here to try to help our community get back in we're pushing millions of dollars out the door, to help businesses to help nonprofits to help to help individuals navigate through this but we are it's going to be a long haul coming out. How is

Unknown Speaker
the city doing with COVID infections with employees?

Unknown Speaker
Well, we've been I would say, overall since March, we've been pleased we've been able to manage this. And it's thanks to the employees and how they behave and control exposure. We did just have today on Monday, we'll be announcing shortly we had three new cases in the city government and we've never had a day with three cases. So you know, statistics are hard to measure. You can get bumps, but it's concerning. I mean, we we know there is more virus in our community than there was a week ago or four weeks ago. And that hits us. So we need to be sure. And I want to thank thank the terrific employees of city government who've provided services 24 seven since March, to keep services going we're going to be probably taking some more steps to do all that we can to protect each other and to keep keep the services going for our community.

Unknown Speaker
Do those three that just tested positive? Did they work with residents in Bloomington?

Unknown Speaker
generally not directly? No. They work with other colleagues. So we've had a continuity of city government team, we call it to make sure we can continue our work. They're going to be invoked. Even as we speak, I think they're meeting to talk about next steps, which could include accelerating certain of the protection protocols, reducing the interactions of our employees with each other even further, we're doing quite a bit with that. Just trying to be extra careful knowing the context that the disease is spreading.

Unknown Speaker
I just thought we'd do a quick comment on the election. We pretty much know Indiana's a red state. But are you were you surprised at all about the red wave throughout the state during this election?

Unknown Speaker
Well, I think everybody had something they liked or didn't like probably in this election, from from top to bottom, our county continued with strong democratic performance, our state did see significant republican performance and some gains. And then nationally, of course, we had a mix really from from state from senate and house to the national election. I do hope people who lose elections will concede that's important. I've won elections, and I've lost elections, and you got to move on and accept the results of the people. It was a great turnout, which was terrific to see people are energized and care a lot. We, I would say this, we got some things to fix, we need to fix the election process. So it's easy to vote safe to vote as many people as possible can vote, we need to get rid of gerrymandering so that Indiana, Indiana did not have a 79 to 21 vote in the House. But that's what the result is going to be 71 to 29, sorry, 71 to 29. That wasn't the way the vote was the districts are dramatically skewed. And then the third thing is really looking at the electoral college when you have a president win by more than 5 million votes. But it's a squeaker in other ways. You know, we got to fix our democracy a little more. I

Unknown Speaker
think I just have to mention your wife. Dawn is part of the Biden transition team, right?

Unknown Speaker
Yes. My wife, Professor Don Johnson, is officially part of her third presidential transition team. She's helping with the bind effort like she did with the Obama and Clinton efforts. So she's busy busy between now and January 20. Trying to help make sure that transition goes well.

Unknown Speaker
We have just I know just a couple more minutes but have to touch upon there's the hospital development site happening. There's still things going on in the city, the convention center is having a meeting. You do is underway. Let's just start with the you do. I think we're still talking about plexes. Right multi do triplexes and residential areas downtown, but the City Council adopted the UDL last December. So what what are these meetings happening this week for?

Unknown Speaker
Yes, so the unified development ordinance, which is basically the zoning for the city of Bloomington is a long process that really starts with the comprehensive Master Plan, which sets in goals and strategies and targets turned into the text of the of the zoning, and the current zoning. And then, and that was that's been done in the past in the past couple of years. But right now, the final step is assigning the new zoning definitions to all the map to the whole map. So we're trying to eliminate over 100 planned unit developments. These are kind of specialized zoning districts that have grown up over the many years trying to trying to get back to standard zoning, we've got some new zoning definitions, for example, the new map will include some areas that are designated for basically large students, particularly undergraduate housing, where should that be in the city and not and not having it spread? Kind of so randomly, but concentrating it more where we think it's helpful, particularly close to the university campus. There's also a more new residential district, you mentioned the plexes. We have five different residential districts from largest to smallest lot. And in each of those districts, there's zoning that says what can be built there, what kind of buildings and what kind of uses and one thing Bloomington doesn't have a lot of is what people call the middle the missing middle. We have a lot of single family homes, we have a lot of multifamily buildings. We don't have a lot of and particularly new ones have that missing middle kind of from 2348 units, smaller size like that. So there's a lot of debate about where that should be, how to help people live in the community. We're a very expensive market. So the UDL meetings, we'll discuss all of that. So everyone's Welcome to go either in person or online, you can get feedback.

Unknown Speaker
And the hospital development site. I guess I should mention, if you drive by which I don't get out much, no one gets out gets out much anymore and drive by the new hospital hospital, you'd be surprised how much that's taken shape. But also the city is working on the current hospital site. And it's getting close to kind of zeroing in on a, is it fair to say a site plan?

Unknown Speaker
Well, yes, we would call it a Draft Master Plan, kind of a vision document of what ought to be done. And we hope to have that concluded by the end of this year. So we are wrapping in there's a there's a public meeting Wednesday, this week, the 18th in the evening in front of City Council, which will be very interesting for those who haven't followed it. We're continuing to welcome feedback, this plan will look at how the street network should be changed and re re stitched, if you will, but kind of texture to the new reuse of that hospital. It's It's a wonderful opportunity. We welcome we've had hundreds of individuals giving us feedback, and we welcome even more.

Unknown Speaker
And Convention Center meeting tonight to get some feedback from people about how that should move forward. It should be rethought about just curious your opinion on what should happen now with the convention center, particularly now with the pandemic?

Unknown Speaker
Well, I think the pandemic has meant and I think everyone knows, we took a step back and said, let's take a breath. It's not time to dig into that right now. I think it's too early. I'm not I think this this meeting that scheduled is is is a little too early. We intend to get together with all of our partners either very end of this year, early next year to just start looking at the data, seeing what the what the industry looks like, what the what the data of visitors looks like. And you know, Bloomington is an important. Tourism is an important part of our, our economy as our visitors to the to the location. A lot of people want to be here, but what will that be like over the next year to five? We need to talk about that and think about it. But it's it's likely that people are going to want to keep traveling maybe more by car, that could be an advantage for us. But but there's a lot of open questions. And we'll look forward to talking about that. I think it's a little too early to try to assess exactly where we are yet, though.

Unknown Speaker
Well, that's about I know we're over time here. But I would like to give you the last word or any announcements that you'd like to say,

Unknown Speaker
Joe, thanks. I would just say I do hope people have a good holiday season, we're headed into that. But be careful and be different. It's just a different year. We've had to learn to be different this year in lots of ways. And I would strongly encourage us all to be particularly safe. over these next few months. We will get through this there will be a vaccine, we'll we'll get that distributed, but that's going to take some time. And in the meantime, there's real risk to the vast majority of us who have not had exposure to this disease yet, so be careful.

Unknown Speaker
I thank you so much for your time and those that are watching or listening over on Wi Fi you don't forget you can send a question to for Mayor Hamilton or Jim lindop. The mayor of Columbus do Bennett in Terre Haute, DAX Norton, in the municipal consultant in Nashville, and we'll be happy to pass those along on Ask the mayor. Thank you very much.

Unknown Speaker
Thanks so much, Joe.
Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton

Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton (Zoom)

COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations hit all time highs, the availability of quick testing before the holidays, timeline of the IU Health downtown Bloomington Hospital site plans, and UDO proceedings continue.

On this week’s installment of Ask The Mayor, Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton addresses these issues and more during a Zoom event Tuesday. Listen to the full conversation with Indiana Newsdesk anchor Joe Hren by clicking on the play button above, or read some of the questions and answers below. A portion of this segment airs 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. Wednesday on WFIU. Here are some highlights.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

Hren: The predicted spike of coronavirus is here – just Saturday 8,500 cases, hospitalizations at all time high … the governor ordered new restrictions, there’s a caveat – enforcement is not mandatory, what needs to happen next?

Hamilton: Well, we're in a dangerous area, Joe. Just to put a pin in this, in September we were seeing about 900 cases a day as the moving average. Just today I saw we almost reached 6,000 cases a day. That's a really rapid rise. And when you see those cases increasing, you know two things are going to follow - more hospitalizations because they come a little slower than the case arises, and deaths too.

So here very locally in Bloomington, we're doing better than the state. We're one of only five counties and the only urbanized county that was not subject to the governor's orders. The governor finally took action after the election. I think he's behind the curve a little bit. They're not moving quickly enough. We in this area have moved more quickly in July with a lot of restrictions. But even in Monroe County, we're seeing rises in cases, we're seeing rises in hospitalizations.

So the virus is here, the virus is not on break, the virus is as we get indoors, more, it's spreading more. So these are really challenging time

Hren: It's being called – COVID fatigue. It’s getting cold, the holidays are here, what should people do? How do you get tested with quick results before Thanksgiving? Kathryn also emailed in with the same question.

Hamilton: So we are reminded that even even when we're fatigued, doing the right things of masking, of not getting in large groups - and large group can be eight people. I mean, it's really trying to stay close to your family household members. I heard an epidemiologist over the weekend say, just don't share air with people that you don't live with. Don't be in a place because sharing that air is how this disease passes. So we really got to be careful.

Rapid tests, those that are done in 15, or 30 minutes or so are hard to come by. They're not the most accurate. IU is relying much more on the 24 hour 48 hour, PCR I think they're called tests. And we need a lot more testing, when we said this months ago that there should be much more testing available. It hasn't happened. Even if you get a negative test, you still can be infectious. It might miss it. They're not all accurate. I had two negative tests. When I found out later I have antibodies I was sick.

But even if you do get a negative accurate test, you could be infected and infectious within an hour. It's really hard to know and it reminds us we just have to be careful.

READ MORE: Indiana Records Another Record-High Number of COVID-19 Deaths

Hren: We talked about some of those restrictions the governor put into effect, although I don't think they include businesses, churches, schools. Joyce writes in and wants to know why church is exempt?

Hamilton: I think in the current state order, they are still encouraged to protect. I would say this. I know I've met with religious leaders in our community. I think the religious communities are generally very careful with how they behave and how they act with their congregations, their groups, many of them have people who are at some risk so I am not aware of significant spread through religious activity. Now weddings, receptions, you know even a Bible study if you're if you're not careful, any grouping of people, particularly indoors, is dangerous. So those are those are worthy of real attention. 

Hren: Bobby emails and wants to know how do you put in a complaint on a business for not wearing masks?

Hamilton: You should call the county health department. Now I will let you know that in terms of individual mask wearing by customers, we tend to depend upon the businesses to implement those rules. If there are employees of the business that are not wearing them, that's subject to the business's oversight and the county health department has regulations to enforce that. They actually have several new compliance officers to help with that too.

Hren: Tina sends in a message, who is monitoring the parks? She sees very few adults and children wearing masks.

Hamilton: Generally in our county we have a requirement that you wear a mask when you're within six feet of each other. We monitor that. It is true and we inform people, we distribute masks. It is true that generally we are not finding individuals who declined to wear a mask. And overall, I would say in the community, our mask wearing is very strong.

Kilroy's

Hren: Do you have any information about why Kilroy's was planning on opening, then postponed due to external circumstances?

Hamilton: You know, I really don't know their decision, Joe, I haven't been in touch with them. I did speak with one of the owners of Kilroy's when they announced their plans to open and indicated, we were concerned that they had not reached out to us ahead of their opening directly to coordinate their plans. And I simply indicated it was going to be really important that they open in a way that was safe, and that complied with all the rules.

And I haven't been in touch since then. They chose not to open.

READ MORE: Indiana Election 2020

Hren: I thought we'd do a quick comment on the election. We pretty much know Indiana's a red state. But are you surprised at all about the red wave throughout the state during this election?

Hamilton: Well, I think everybody had something they liked or didn't like probably in this election. From top to bottom, our county continued with strong democratic performance, our state did see significant republican performance and some gains. And then nationally, of course, we had a mix really from state from senate and house to the national election.

I do hope people who lose elections will concede - that's important. I've won elections, and I've lost elections, and you got to move on and accept the results of the people. It was a great turnout, which was terrific to see people are energized and care a lot. I would say this, we got some things to fix, we need to fix the election process. So it's easy to vote safe, to vote so as many people as possible can vote, we need to get rid of gerrymandering. That wasn't the way the vote was - the districts are dramatically skewed. And then the third thing is really looking at the electoral college. When you have a president win by more than 5 million votes, but it's a squeaker, we got to fix our democracy a little more.

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