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Bloomington, Monroe Co. Officials: Stay-At-Home Extension Decision Was Based On Data

The marquee on the Buskirk-Chumley Theater in Bloomington.

(Emma Atkinson, WFIU/WTIU News)

The decision by Monroe County health and government officials not to adhere to Gov. Eric Holcomb’s schedule for reopening businesses is based on data, they say.

Many questions to City Limits: Coronavirus asked what went into the decision to not follow plans for most of the rest of the state outlined May 1 by the governor.

“We took our information from the health department,” Monroe County Board of Commissioners President Julie Thomas said on a special episode of Noon Edition that aired Monday. “This is a data-driven, science-forward decision.”

Government officials from Monroe County, Bloomington and Ellettsville worked with the Monroe County Health Department and health commissioner Dr. Tom Sharp before extending the order rather than following the governor’s guidance.

READ MORE: Can Monroe County Really Impose Tougher COVID-19 Restrictions Than The State?

Sharp says the county has not met the guidelines to warrant taking the foot off the brake.

“We don’t have a two-week pattern that is down trending. We have a flattening,” he said. “And we also are waiting over the next week or so for more testing. We’re going to have a lot more information to make a decision.”

The crucial factors include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-recommended two-week reduction in cases, which has not happened; the availability of intensive care beds and ventilators, which Sharp says is not a problem; and robust testing and contact tracing.

Less than 1 percent of Monroe County residents have been tested and only three part-time nurses are available to trace people who may have come into contact with those who test positive.

READ MORE: State's Online Map Of COVID-19 Testing Sites Shows 3 In Monroe Co.

Sharp says the numbers are too incomplete to be of value, but he hopes the state’s increased testing and tracing over the next two weeks will put Monroe County in a much better position.

“State Board of Health is sending a lot more help for everybody, all the counties, soon and that’s part of what we’re waiting on to advance our stage of normal,” he said.

Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton likes the decision to keep the status quo for two weeks, saying the indicators are not there to suggest it’s safe to reopen yet. He’s pleased the governor put the ability to slow down in the hands of local officials. He calls the situation with COVID-19 a marathon that needs to be addressed with extreme caution.

And this decision clearly puts public health as the No. 1 priority.

Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Erin Predmore appreciates that - while being acutely aware of the pain being felt by the business community.

READ MORE: Monroe, Morgan Co. Unemployment Claims Highest In 5-County Area

She said business leaders are in a very difficult situation and want to get back to work without endangering themselves or their staff.

“They’re seeing this thing that they’ve built over many years … the business owners, their employees, their staff the way they’ve woven it into the community, it’s dissolving before their eyes,” she said. “So they’re just anxious to get back to work. They want to get back to feeling less stressed and worried about their own personal futures. But they’re also scared themselves and they don’t want to harm the community by reopening. They want to be able to do it safely, intentionally and to do it with the best scientific data to inform the best, safest way to reopen.”

Sharp, Thomas and Hamilton all acknowledge the hardship on businesses and the economy. But Hamilton notes the virus is a deadly and unrelenting adversary and need to be followed.

 “Facts are stubborn things,” he said. “The facts of this virus …  aren’t going to change if we wish they would be different or we hope they would be different. We have to address it directly.”

For Sharp, that involves individuals to do everything they can to keep themselves and others safe – social distancing, washing hands, wearing masks and all the rest of the best practices suggested by medical experts. Only then will we see the decreasing number of cases that will make county officials comfortable about reopening.

Even then, both Thomas and Hamilton caution, the numbers must continue to trend in a positive direction for the county to continue to move forward toward something closer to normal.

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

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