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Ask The Mayor: Terre Haute's Bennett On Contracting COVID-19, Restrictions

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Unknown Speaker
All right, it's the last month of 2020. And I'm with Terre Haute, Mayor Duke Bennett, the second week of the month. As always, thank you very much for being here with us.

Unknown Speaker
It's always good to be here. I can't believe this year was going so quickly.

Unknown Speaker
We've had a lot to talk about. That's for sure. I have to start though, by asking about last month, we November 2 week in November, we're ready to meet with you and hurt you had to go into quarantine and then didn't hear anything back. What are you okay?

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, I am. So my wife made her to go to the doctor for another issue. And she had a little bit of a sinus thing going on, which she does all the time. I mean, it's a constant battle for her. Instead of Doctor said, We need you to get a COVID test for you come in the doctors rule. So she did and it came back positive and have any symptoms other than her sinus thing. And the same day or her results came back then I started getting sick. So apparently I got it on that Saturday. And so I was in quarantine because of her result. But then that same evening, a few hours later, I started developing symptoms, I had, you know stuffy nose and fever and all that kind of stuff for about four days. body aches, the basic, I guess the the more milder symptoms, and no breathing issues whatsoever. And after about four days, it pretty much passed, I did lose my 10th sense of taste and smell, kind of at the end of that, but it came back very quickly. And I've been just fine just since so I work from home for the rest of that quarantine, and came back to work a few weeks ago, and all was good. So it was a surprise. You know, as many people I've been around, I thought I would get it sooner than this or be exposed to it. But apparently, I may have got it from my wife. And so everything is fine now and just had a few days there have some pretty mild symptoms.

Unknown Speaker
So you did test

Unknown Speaker
positive, I didn't do a test. So I when I talked to my doctor, he said, Well, obviously since your wife tested positive, we treat everybody in the household as potentially having it then. But then when I lost my sense of taste and smell, they're like, you don't need to take a pill. So you clearly have it. And so I never I didn't go out, you know, when I was sick to do that. I don't lay in bed for a few days.

Unknown Speaker
And then how about the rest of the staff there at city hall? Was

Unknown Speaker
there no, it's hit or miss. So we've had some people off because of just quarantine because somebody in their family has had it or they got exposed with somebody at work. And we've had people that actually tested positive. So right now it's better than it was earlier in the month, we had about 30 policemen and firemen total off. And those numbers have come down. And I think I've got one or two here and there right now. So things have improved dramatically. For us. I mean, it's been pretty rampant here in the month of November into the first part of December.

Unknown Speaker
When you were in quarantine, were you able to still do your duties as mayor and if not, who would? Who would

Unknown Speaker
couple days ever I didn't feel very good. And I stayed on the couch and stayed in bed quite a bit. But, you know, I was doing email and phone calls and and then once that passed, you know, which was only a few days, I was doing zoom meetings, you know, pretty much all day just like I'm doing in the office there really wasn't much different.

Unknown Speaker
Let's get to the situation. They're in Vigo county in Terre Haute, are you seeing an increase in positivity rates and is it is anything kind of going in parallel with what's happening with the ISU students and that situation.

Unknown Speaker
Now most of the ISU students are have gone home now. And we're not seeing any uptick of any numbers from that college perspective at all. Most of our uptick right now is coming from the federal penitentiary they have seen up pretty good numbers there. I know the other day at one time. I get numbers every day. So don't quote me on what day I saw a lot. But you know, they were at 16. And then they jumped up to 86 I think over the course of a week. And so their numbers continue to be up a little bit because it's that you know, close contact, you know, in a prison similar to a nursing home where you're you really have nowhere to go. You're going to be around people that have it. I don't think they have a lot of serious cases just a lot of people have tested positive. And so the numbers today I saw were 68 from yesterday, so that's better than it was we were 150 200 a couple times in a day. And so I feel like it's maybe stabilizing a little bit, but it's still too early to tell where it's going to go. Sometimes it will drop a little and start going up again.

Unknown Speaker
Well, I know many are worried about the post Thanksgiving Day numbers that could start coming in. Is that a concern as well?

Unknown Speaker
Yeah. You know, I think it's obviously too soon to measure those yet. But I would suspect in the next week to 10 days, we should see if there is an impact, we'll start to see that.

Unknown Speaker
I see seven day all tests are at 10% in Vigo County, unique individuals, almost 23%. Can you maybe explain to those who don't understand the difference between those two numbers? And what and what does that tell you?

Unknown Speaker
You know, what it really tells me is that when you look at the population, and you look at the numbers of people that are tested, and how many people come out positive with it. I mean, anytime you're working in numbers, you can look at it different ways and get different results, or a different thing that you want to communicate, I think we've seen that nationwide, different states, different messages come out looking at really the same numbers everywhere. What I like to look at is, what's our positivity rate? And how many tests are we giving, because if you're giving a lot more tasks, then obviously you're going to find more people that have it. And I think people are more comfortable right now to go get a task because so we've seen such an uptick in people getting sick, actually being sick. But then their family members close contacts, they're going to get in a test. So our testing numbers go up, our positives go up. But then when you compare it to our population numbers, we're still you know, we're not an outlier, I guess that's the best way to put it. So my mind mostly look at how many people got tested. And how many positives did we have? Because if our if our testing numbers go down and positives go up, then obviously, that's not a good trend. But as long as we keep the test numbers up, and the positives are kind of correlating with that, that doesn't worry me nearly as much. And so then what I look at too, is the hospitalizations which doesn't always get put out to the public. But just looking at the utilization of ventilators, you utilization of ICU beds. And those numbers are still very manageable for us here in Vigo County. Yes, there are people in the hospital. And yes, there are people that are sick. But it seems as though we don't have as many people as we hit early on on ventilators obviously. And number two, the treatment schemes when they're getting the antibody tests are I mean, the antibody treatment, it seems people don't have the shorter stays in the hospital phase. So that seems to be another improvement from months ago. I do long answer. But I tried to look at all of the data and don't focus on any one piece of it.

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, I did want to ask you about what the hospitals were like there. I know. You help. This was Friday. So you know, a few days ago, but we're close to 90% capacity of ICU beds, and we're looking at meeting rooms and other space for to be able to have patients what's it like there in Vigo County?

Unknown Speaker
Well, I'm not seeing a report this week yet. So over the last two days, I'll get something soon. But as of the weekend, our utilizations not that high. The biggest problem is staffing. I mean, people are, you know, there for a while they were I'll take the overtime, you know, I'll work these extra hours. But at some point, you know, for an individual, they reach that where they just can't keep working. And so that's the hardest part. I think they have space for them. But it's having the nursing staff and everybody else you need to be able to manage those additional bed, and that's the problem. And so both a regional and union, I hear that repeatedly that staffing concerns are the biggest thing right now. No equipment, you know, breathing equipment or bed space as much as it is just that are just worn out.

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, Mayor Lynn up in Columbus has said the exact same thing.

Unknown Speaker
It's just, you know, this was going on for so long that people just can't work all that extra time. It's just not, they physically can't do it. And they're getting exposed to COVID constantly. And, you know, just you hope the vaccine comes fast enough here that at least there'll be a beginning of a new era where you won't have to worry about that quite as much. If you get vaccinated. At least you'll be able to, you know, deal with the public in a way that give you more comfort and not, you know, not carry it back home to your family.

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, and the reason why I was asking you about the ISU students too is kind of the opposite happened in Bloomington. You're talking about positive rates, where a bunch of it You testing happened. So the posits the rate actually went down because they weren't finding as many students with COVID.

Unknown Speaker
So it was that, that's a great point, I'm following you because you know, Rose hulman. And if she were doing a lot of testing a lot of testing, and as the students have, you know, migrated away, they're not doing as much testing, but they weren't finding that many positives on our campuses, you know, and that's not true about all campuses, I think Purdue's been pretty good. But there's been some others that I've read about that I've had a high number of students get it and positive cases. So that skews the numbers too, because technically, they're not even counted in our population, but they're counted against the positives for accounting. And so that's kind of skews the numbers a little bit. So what I've seen there, though, is not good numbers, you know, good, good feedback, that we're not having any, it didn't take off. We had some early numbers, but then they fell down very quickly. And, you know, in the same thing with the prison, yes, they are Canada in our population. But right now, they're a big part of this, and it's not the rest of the community. So another thing that kind of makes it you have to really look and dig down into the numbers, to get a feel for what you think is happening.

Unknown Speaker
As the numbers have increased, how do you feel the governor is handling restrictions, and that, you know, that type of thing, I think most of it's being handled at the local level, just your your thoughts and any types of thoughts about more restrictions there in Vigo County,

Unknown Speaker
I would still say that the governor has done a good job with this. I don't think anybody, anybody can say anything they want, you know, politicians always want to, you know, talk about, we've done what we need to do I get that. But at the end of the day, it's up to the health care professionals, it's up to the health department, it's those people who live in this world, to guide us and give us advice on what we should do. And I think the governor's got a lot of bad advice coming in. And I think what he has done makes sense to me, because when I look at other states that have shut down, and their numbers now are going way up, when they never really opened all the way back up. That just tells you that that's not the only answer to this question is to shut everything down. And have Everybody stay at home. There has to be a balance between all of this. And I think, looking at our numbers here locally, I don't think that we need to do to shut businesses down. I just don't think that's the answer. I think we got to continue to let people know that, yes, there might be light at the end of the tunnel, because the vaccines coming. But we still have weeks and probably a couple of months, two or three months here, where you need to maintain the social distancing. And the masking. Just do it. You know, I know there's people or don't want to do that. I know there's people on the other side, that'll what, they'll probably do it for the next year. That's great. Use some common sense here. And so I think where we're at as an Orange County, what the state is doing, I think we need just to keep talking and reminding people that they're in control of spreading this disease, this, this pandemic, this COVID. And they can do everything they personally can will make a big difference on as getting to enough people vaccinated that we can start going the other direction with this. So I'm all about reminding people about masking. I'm all about reminding them social distancing. But I'm not about shutting businesses down, when there's no proof that that's going to change the numbers. They say it's the science. But you look at California, New York, they've been still shut down this whole time yet their numbers are going up. And those businesses are already closed. So it's other things that are out there that we have to manage. And a lot of it has to do with nursing homes, prisons, jails, universities, I think those are the areas bars seem to be when you talk about a business, but not sit down restaurants. There doesn't seem to be any science to say that that's a big, hot spot. So let's no put people out of business because it might make things better. We now know

Unknown Speaker
better. When you see Orange County, you referring to the governor's rating of county,

Unknown Speaker
Orange County right now, right. Don't want to confuse anybody with Orange County.

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, yeah. You know, it's early, as you mentioned in the vaccine process. Are there any preparations that are happening now that that you know, of are a part of there in Terre Haute?

Unknown Speaker
I know that the state has been working with hospitals to be a key player in this distribution. And union has been a big part of that. I know for sure because I've talked to them about that. I'm not sure about what Regional, but the plan is out there to get it to the frontline health care workers, get it in nursing homes, get it to our, you know, public safety folks. And so I know that's phase one. And that's ready to roll out here. Once we get the vaccines in our community. They'll be ready to go on the first day or the next day as soon as they take delivery, and manage release.

Unknown Speaker
So I know we're past halfway point. So I wanted to get to a few other things. As we wrap up the year. I know the police station has been a major priority for you, which is the purchase of the building and renovation to move the police station there. Can you give us an update on that progress? Yeah,

Unknown Speaker
last week, we sold the bond for that got a great interest rate. It's got some varying interest rates in it, but average is about 2.7% over the next 20 years, which is, you know, really, really good to be able to borrow about $12 million to do that project. We at that same time, we also refinance the bond that we had in our 46 area 46 TIF district for the casinos going in and out. And we're able to save about $600,000 kept the same length of time on that bond and reduce our payments in the interest that to be about a $600 $600,000 savings. So those were two big bond sales last week. But what happens next, we have the closing on December 17. We'll get the proceeds from those bonds, and construction, demolition, all the work that has to go on with the police station will begin hopefully sometime around the holidays that they'll get started before the end of the year, and will be in there in about six to seven months. So hopefully by next July, we'll be in our new building.

Unknown Speaker
And I see you are a part of the Holman center renovation you were a speaker $50 million renovation just opened this past week I seen some photos and videos, it looks great, but it's about a blue block from what will be the new Convention Center. It's

Unknown Speaker
right across the street. Yeah. So

Unknown Speaker
how important is that renovated facility for that area.

Unknown Speaker
In a you know, it's all of this is so important. So Allman center was very old and dated and needed some refurbishing, and they put $50 million of new heating and cooling and a new, you know, it just looks different from the outside the inside looks completely different, a lot of glass, a lot of open areas that were never there before all of the seats have been replaced, new sound system and just all the things you would expect to see in a brand new building. And so the events that are drawn there, when we have the convention center downtown, we have our third hotel, a new parking garage to complement the one that's already in that area. I mean, it really is a game changer for us when it comes to tourism and bring people to our community, they're going to see a beautiful home Center, a brand new Convention Center, our museums downtown, we've got some other things kind of in the hopper there. You know, once we get through this COVID The timing is good for us. Because you know, right now, nobody's going to anything in this type of an environment. But within the next couple years, I'm hoping everything is back to normal. And we're going to see things we've never had in Taro before. I'm truly excited about these projects.

Unknown Speaker
And I know people always want to know about leaf pickup, do you have some updates on that?

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, we're a little over halfway through the city. Now, I would expect us to be done over the holiday. So we'll be done by the end of the year. Some years, we roll into January, because of weather. But the weather's been great. Our guys and gals are out working really hard. We're working up to Eighth Avenue right now, which puts us almost a third of the way into the North half of the city. So I think over the next three weeks, we had to be able to get it all done. And um, we get calls every day about that. So that's a hot topic around here is when they're going to pick up my leaves. And so I feel very, very good about our schedule. And as long as we don't get some snow or ice war completed by the holiday season here.

Unknown Speaker
And any road projects you want to update people on

Unknown Speaker
I would just Lafayette Avenue is probably the biggest one. And so we just opened that up last Friday the section we were working on, what you'll see now over the rest of the winter is we're going to be putting in a storm sewer pipe on the east side of the road. So there will be some northbound traffic and there'll be a flagman out there stops guys that route you over to the other side. But that'll last probably until February, also on and then we'll pick the project back up in earnest in the spring. We're not going to close the road down completely. We'll build half of it, move the traffic over to that and Do the other side, because that's a very, very busy stretch with a lot of fast food restaurants and businesses out there. So it'll take us all year to get it done. But we'll do it in a way that's helpful to all those businesses and people travel that North Lafayette Avenue area.

Unknown Speaker
So before we go, it's obviously the holidays are coming up Christmas and many family gatherings traditions that happen. What's your message on how to do Christmas this year with the Coronavirus?

Unknown Speaker
Well, you know, we hear from the professionals that they say don't get lots of households together. And you know, some people are going to do that they did it at Thanksgiving. So maybe you know, people, it's hard, I get it, it's really hard to not be with your family for Thanksgiving, Christmas. Just be be smart about it, where your mask, when you're out running around when if you're around somebody in your family, that's sick, maybe they have some other underlying health issues. You know, just be smart about this and stay out, stay away from them. If you're in the same space, try to separate as much as you possibly can minimize the time you're together if you have to do that. The key is that social distancing, and not being around people for a long period of time. And I just hope people are smart about it, you know, we don't want to lose any more folks. We need to get through this holiday season, I think is the key to get to the vaccines. And this is our last big holiday that we're going to see. And it's a big one. And I just think that it's tough for people not to be around their family. And so use common sense. Try to minimize that interaction, and especially around anybody who may have, you know, some underlying medical conditions, let's just be smart about our holiday season. Well, thanks, everybody, a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. You know, I mean, I'm hopeful that next year is 100 times better than this year. You know, I had surgery, I'm just picking on myself, I guess. But I had told her surgery errors early in the year, I got attached to the COVID. I know a lot of people around me have been sick and people are struggling financially because the COVID I'm just looking forward to a bright 2021 and get this year behind. And I know everybody probably feels exactly the same way.

Unknown Speaker
I will thank you very much. Was there anything else in any other announcements or anything else? Oh, I

Unknown Speaker
think that's probably it. We're working on a lot of stuff. But I'm really you know, we're finishing out this year and looking forward to next year. I will say that we did get community crossings, funds was was announced this week. So we got about a million dollars there. So that's exciting. But you know, we're just, we got a lot to do. And we're working really hard for the citizens of our community. And I just look as I said, Look forward to next year being a big year force.

Unknown Speaker
Okay, well, thanks for being on the show in 2020. And hope to see you again then in 2021.

Unknown Speaker
Very good Joe. Thanks.

Unknown Speaker
Thank you. Bye bye.
Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett

Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett on the Zoom interview Tuesday afternoon. (Zoom)

Bennett says he experienced minor symptoms with no trouble breathing and was able to continue working from home. He says hospital COVID-19 rates are high, but manageable - though staffing is becoming more difficult. And we get updates on the new police station, Lafayette Ave. construction, and leaf pick-up.

On this week’s installment of Ask The Mayor, Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett addresses these issues and more on a Zoom conference call. 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: Last month, during our second week in November, we're ready to meet with you and heard you had to go into quarantine and then didn't hear anything back. What happened and are you okay?

Bennett: Yeah, I am. So my wife went to the doctor for another issue. The doctor said, we need you to get a COVID test for you come in - the doctors rule. So she did and it came back positive and didn't have any symptoms. And the same day her results came back, then I started getting sick. So apparently I got it on that Saturday. And so I was in quarantine because of her result.

But then that same evening, a few hours later, I started developing symptoms. I had stuffy nose and fever and all that kind of stuff for about four days... body aches, the basics, I guess - the more milder symptoms, and no breathing issues whatsoever. I did lose my sense of taste and smell, but it came back very quickly.

I've been just fine since. I worked from home for the rest of that quarantine, and came back to work a few weeks ago, and all was good. So it was a surprise. You know, as many people I've been around, I thought I would get it sooner than this or be exposed to it.

READ MORE: Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett Says He Recovered From COVID-19 Last Month

Hren: A few days ago, IU Health hospitals were reporting close to 90% capacity of ICU beds, what's it like there in Vigo County?

Bennett: As of the weekend, our utilizations are not that high. The biggest problem is staffing. I mean, for a while they were taking the overtime, I'll work these extra hours. But at some point, for an individual, they reach where they just can't keep working. And so that's the hardest part. I think they have space for them. But it's having the nursing staff and everybody else you need to be able to manage those additional beds, and that's the problem.

Hren: As the numbers have increased, how do you feel the governor is handling restrictions? And your thoughts about more restrictions there in Vigo County?

Bennett: I would still say that the governor has done a good job with this. But at the end of the day, it's up to the health care professionals, it's up to the health department, it's those people who live in this world, to guide us and give us advice on what we should do.

There has to be a balance between all of this. And I think, looking at our numbers here locally, I don't think that we need to do to shut businesses down. I just don't think that's the answer. I think we got to continue to let people know that, yes, there might be light at the end of the tunnel, because the vaccine is coming. But we still have weeks and probably a couple of months, two or three months here, where you need to maintain the social distancing. And the masking. Just do it. Use some common sense here.

READ MORE: Indiana Rockets Past 6,000 COVID-19 Deaths Milestone

I think we need just to keep talking and reminding people that they're in control of spreading this disease. And doing everything they personally can will make a big difference on getting enough people vaccinated that we can start going the other direction with this.

But I'm not about shutting businesses down, when there's no proof that that's going to change the numbers. They say it's the science. But you look at California, New York, they've been still shut down this whole time yet their numbers are going up. And those businesses are already closed. So it's other things that are out there that we have to manage.

Former Tribune-Star building
The former Trib-Star building will become the city's new police station.

Hren: As we wrap up the year, I know the police station has been a major priority for you, which is the purchase of the former Trib-Star building and renovation to move the police station there. Can you give us an update on that progress?

Bennett: Last week, we sold the bond for that got a great interest rate. It's got some varying interest rates in it, but average is about 2.7% over the next 20 years, which is, you know, really, really good to be able to borrow about $12 million to do that project.

We at that same time, also refinanced the bond that we had in our 46 TIF district for the casinos going in and out. And we're able to save about $600,000 - kept the same length of time on that bond and reduce our payments in the interest. So those were two big bond sales last week. But what happens next, we have the closing on December 17. We'll get the proceeds from those bonds, and construction, demolition, all the work that has to go on with the police station will begin hopefully sometime around the holidays and will be in there in about six to seven months. So hopefully by next July, we'll be in our new building.

READ MORE: Ribbon Cutting Marks Reopening Of ISU's Hulman Center

Hren: Two other items people always ask about, road construction and leaf pick-up.

Bennett: We're a little over halfway through the city. I would expect us to be done over the holiday. Some years, we roll into January, because of weather. But the weather's been great. We're working up to Eighth Avenue right now, which puts us almost a third of the way into the north half of the city. We get calls every day about that.

And so we just opened Lafayette Ave. up last Friday - the section we were working on. What you'll see now over the rest of the winter is we're going to be putting in a storm sewer pipe on the east side of the road. So there will be some northbound traffic and there'll be a flagman out there. That'll last probably until February, and then we'll pick the project back up in earnest in the spring. We're not going to close the road down completely. We'll build half of it, move the traffic over to that and do the other side. So it'll take us all year to get it done.

Hren: Before we go, what's your message to residents that want to travel and celebrate Christmas and the holidays during the pandemic?

Bennett: This is our last big holiday that we're going to see. And it's a big one. And I just think that it's tough for people not to be around their family. And so use common sense. Try to minimize that interaction, and especially around anybody who may have some underlying medical conditions, let's just be smart about our holiday season.

I'm hopeful that next year is 100 times better than this year. I know a lot of people around me have been sick and people are struggling financially because of COVID I'm just looking forward to a bright 2021 and get this year behind. And I know everybody probably feels exactly the same way.

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

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