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Ask The Mayor: Bloomington's Hamilton On Reopening, Answers Your Questions

Mayor Hamilton

Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton (Zoom)

An update on the city's response to the coronavirus pandemic, metrics and plans to reopen, testing, and your questions. This week's show was done on Zoom and streamed on Facebook Live - see the entire interview below.

On this week’s installment of Ask The Mayor, Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton addresses these issues and more. 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.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

Hren: Heading into four days of reopening, how are businesses and patrons adhering to new guidelines?

Hamilton: Everybody is directed to have a plan as an institution, if you're opening up have a plan of how you're managing the risks with using protective personal protective equipment like masks and sanitation, etc. I think as we probably would have expected we've seen an incremental opening up. There are some restaurants that are saying not yet. We're not ready. There are others have jumped and said we're ready.

We're seeing some incremental behaviors. So I think our behaviors as a community as a whole are going to drive what happens next.

Hren: What are the metrics and plans to move forward?

Hamilton: There's a group of us that meet three times a week. County, county health, the mayor, IU Health, IU leadership - that has really been a key group to work with the county health officer who makes the ultimate determination to think about what is the data that's so important.

That was the group, for example, that saw when the governor was opening up Indiana, our local data did not show hospitalizations declining for two weeks. So we said, timeout, no, we're not ready.

Some of the gating criteria you'll find on the CDC website or the state website, are your hospitalizations decreasing, is the incidence of those who are tested, positive, decreasing, do you have safe capacity in your healthcare institutions to help, how much testing is happening, what kind of contact tracing do you have, how many influenza like indicators? The current order goes at least through May 31. Whether it'll be extended or not, we'll probably hear next week.

READ MORE: Monroe Co. To Move Into Stage 2 Of Governor's Plans To Reopen With Some Alterations

Hren: Are you feeling some pushback about reopening? Some people are saying their rights are being violated, we've seen the protests in Indianapolis, and some lawsuits in other states, but do you feel that here?

Hamilton: I do. I certainly get feedback from people about it. I would say on balance in Bloomington, most of what I am hearing is be careful. Don't go too fast. I think there's some people who feel concerned that we're going too fast. 

There are a lot of people it appears in our community and in our state who have been sick or are sick and have no symptoms, almost half of those who get sick. And there are a lot more people who have been or are sick than we know about. So I do think it's really important to be careful and most of the message I've get I met with some faith community leaders who want to be very careful.

Hren: You mentioned Governor Holcomb, how's the reopening guidance been from the state all the way up to President Trump? Are you feeling like the messages are what the community needs?

Hamilton: No. We've had a real lack of federal clarity and guidance. You know, this kind of crisis needs to be led by the science. It's one of the reasons locally, the health department is the leading voice for us. And I think we've seen a lack of that focus on science. Look, it's tricky for for public officials who are typically not health experts. I'm not a health expert. It's tricky sometimes to play a lead role, while acknowledging it really needs to be driven by science.

I am a little concerned that in Indiana where we're a low test state, we're trying to move pretty fast. I don't think we're as transparent as we should be. Just as one example. In Indiana, we don't actually share the information of incidents in individual nursing homes or senior care centers, it's very difficult to find out how many deaths have happened in in those places.

READ MORE: Greene Co. Nursing Home Releasing In-Depth Case, Death Statistics

Hren: You talk about testing, any new information on expanding that?

Hamilton: There will be a new test site that should open up next week. I believe it's after Memorial Day that will be available where you don't need a doctor's order, you still have to call and get an appointment. But of course, we really want tests widely available, we want to test so that when you go to work in a restaurant, you can be tested quickly find out if you're sick. We want to test for kids and university students and teachers and faith leaders and others who are in groups. All that's really helpful and that's a ways off the lack of testing.

Hren: Are you involved in any of the conversations with Indiana University and reopening campus this fall, how do you feel about bringing students from all over the world back to Bloomington in August?

Hamilton: I would expect we'll hear from them quite soon and I expect we're going to hear an intention to teach people in the fall and to probably do it in some kind of hybrid way. My guess is there's so many uncertainties it's going to be a mix.

IU can set very strict protocols on campus. But most of the students then live off campus and the protocols off campus IU cannot enforce the same way and that's a challenge the town and gown we're working together on that.


Q: Can agency for seniors allowed to take the elderly client to other places than a doctor like Walmart or other places?

Hamilton: I don't know the rules on that. Those facilities are open. Now if they choose to be, many of them are directed to have special hours for at-risk customers. So I would definitely recommend that you look into that because many do set aside hours where elderly or people who are at risk can come with special protection.

Q: For those over 65 to go to a salon or barber shop, is that safe?

Hamilton: You have to make your own judgment. I would talk to your health care provider. I think you need to be exceedingly careful because I think those barber shops and salons are going to be - as they're seeing many customers, there can be COVID there, and if you're susceptible and worried about it, you need to be very cautious about it. I would not do so at this time.

Q: Can rental companies force high risk tenants to let maintenance come in to change filters, smoke alarm batteries, if it's not an emergency?

Hamilton: I don't know the exact legal answer to that. I'm sure they could. If it's a safety issue of a fire alarm or something like that. You would expect that as a tenant, you would have the right to be kept safe and you should be able to negotiate that with your with your landlord. If you have concerns about that reach out to the city Housing and Neighborhood Development Department or legal services if there's a particular issue about that. We found most people are cooperating.

Q: How does the city know that restaurant owners receiving grants or loans are not perpetrators of wage theft?

Hamilton: The short answer to that is we do the best we can as we did a loan program that's now given out about a million dollars. We worked quickly to identify applicants who provided detailed financial and other information to us. We had standards of audit of financials and tax returns and things like that. And we would understand the best we can, but I have to be honest, it is possible that a restaurant or organization that violated some other law we were not aware of, could have could have gotten funding.

We'd appreciate any indications or suggestions as we always do about anybody that's not following the laws to help us identify that and respond appropriately. But our lending program was set up and operated extremely nimbly and quickly to get more than a million dollars to scores of businesses to help make sure that could keep people employed and if there are problems with OSHA violations or other violations, we'd like to hear about them as quickly as we could.

Q: Menards in Bloomington requires everyone to have a mask on. Why is it not mandatory for all retail type businesses to require the same?

Hamilton: That's a good question about face coverings. Our county health department, along with the state health department have not chosen to mandate masks. There are circumstances where employees and certain providers of services are required to wear masks, but the general public is strongly advised to wear face coverings anytime you're out in public. Particularly if you know you're not keeping a six foot distance from people and it's gonna be driven by what happens on the ground. If we see increases in disease, we may need to move that way. If we don't, I think we'll keep keep approaching it the way the health department is.

Q: This person says they do not have the COVID-19 symptoms. She is a healthy 75 year young lady. Should she be tested anyway?

Hamilton: Well, eventually, yes, you should be tested. I think all of us want to be tested and all of us should get a vaccine when it's available. Currently, most all the testing in the area that I know about, is directed toward people with symptoms. And now the new test site is available to people who go through their protocol, they do not need a doctor's order. There may be circumstances where if you've been exposed to somebody, or you're in a particularly high risk place, that may be done. But generally if you're feeling good, right now, that tests are not really designed to serve you, but they should be. Eventually we should all be able to get tested and more than once.

For the latest news and resources about COVID-19, bookmark our Coronavirus In Indiana page here

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