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Ask The Mayor: Columbus Lienhoop On Extending Mask Mandate, Federal $8 Million Boost

Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop

Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop

Lienhoop says COVID rates would have to reach January levels to extend a public mask mandate, the city is just starting to look into spending the $8 million in federal relief funds, and police are still looking for the individual who left white supremacist graffiti downtown.

On this week’s installment of Ask The Mayor, Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop 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: The statewide mask mandate and restrictions end today, April 6 – how do you feel about that? Especially after the state's 7-day positivity rate, which runs a week behind, rises for a second straight day, to 4.5%, highest since February 18.

Lienhoop: Well, you know, I think we need to continue to mask for a while. And, you know, the governor, so looking at the data, I guess that he's looking at but you know, I really refer to two things. One is the vaccination rate, the notion that we need to get to somewhere around 65,000.

There's another issue out there too, and that relates to OSHA, stands for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. And they've got some rules that require us to maintain a safe work environment for all employees. And so part of what that means is not introducing the virus to places where people work. And so, you know, the city will be continuing to mask up through at least the end of April. And I imagine that we will continue that for, like I say, at least through July, we will probably announce it one month at a time.

But but the masking would require or would apply, to employees, and to visitors who come to to City Hall, we would expect everybody to wear a mask if they're indoors now.

Hren: What would it take to impose a public, local mask mandate there?

Lienhoop: Well, if we revisited where we were back at the first of this year, if the hospital begins to fill up again, and we begin to get concerned about capacity in the intensive care unit, if we slip and begin to see metrics that show us that we're clearly headed in the wrong direction, if we see, some of the variants that have been discussed, if we see some of those in our community, we may may feel compelled to act. But right now, I think we're in a good spot. And it seems to be that the, the trend is in the right direction. So we're gonna play that out for a while.

Hren: The American Rescue Plan Act allocates more than $16 million to Bartholomew Co. and almost $8 million to Columbus – have you started discussions about where that money could be used?

Lienhoop: Yes, we have begun discussions, both at City Hall and we've begun to reach out a little bit to folks in the community, and the first issue is trying to assess the extent to which organizations have been impacted by the pandemic or by a reduction in revenues. The visitor center, for example, has had its revenues significantly reduced because of the reduction in stays at hotels. So, that's one of the areas that we would look at. We would also take a look at some of the social service agencies and such, but it's really still a little bit too early for us to begin to make any kind of announcements. We need to sit down with a few members from the city council and see what they may be hearing out in the community.

READ MORE: Bloomington Mayor Questions Local Revenue Increase After $22 Million In Federal Relief

Hren: I know you’ve been dealing with white supremacist graffiti on some downtown buildings – any more info or news to report on that?

Lienhoop: We haven't found him, we got a picture and we're hopeful that we can get some more. It's kind of surprising to me that anybody in this day and age would do something like that because there are cameras everywhere. I mean, you just don't understand, the city has several at some of the traffic light intersections around town, but private homeowners and businesses, they've all got some kind of security camera out there.

We found some physical evidence that the guy left behind. But more to the point, we are just really disappointed when somebody acts out like this, and at this time we think it's a lone individual. And it's a little disappointing not only that person would behave in this fashion and sort of try to promote those kinds of ideas. But it's also a little disappointing that it gets as much play as it does, because I get to feel like part of what that person's agenda is, is to try to get as much attention as he or she can, and what do we do? We talk about it.

We want to emphasize to everyone that this is not who we are, that this is not what we want to be. It's not what we stand for. And these folks don't represent who we are or what we think. But nonetheless, it's disheartening when it happens, and we'll clean it up and we'll move on. We were able to get some of the graffiti cleaned up within a matter of hours. Some of it took a little bit longer. But, but we'll always be that way. We will always respond in that fashion.

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

Want to contact your legislators about an issue that matters to you? Find out how to contact your senators and member of Congress here.

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