Leaders stress collaboration in finding ‘new normal’

Clockwise from top left: Huntingburg Mayor Denny Spinner, Jasper Mayor Dean Vonderheide, U.S. Sen. Mike Braun and State Sen. Mark Messmer


“When do we get back to normal?”

Jasper Mayor Vonderheide asked that question rhetorically on Monday, his face fixed in the top-right corner of an electronic grid of faces generated by web cameras as hundreds watched on.

“There is no going back,” he answered. “The only way out is through and into a future that is undefined. But let’s do it together and in collaboration with our federal, state and local resources.”

Representatives from each of those levels of government gathered virtually Monday to deliver a COVID-19 update on Facebook Live that shared ways the world could begin to change yet again.

Vonderheide, Huntingburg Mayor Denny Spinner, Indiana Sen. Mark Messmer and U.S. Senator Mike Braun each spoke about the coronavirus and how the pandemic is affecting different levels of the country.

The meeting came exactly a month after Vonderheide and Spinner hosted a similar online event. Much has changed in the time since.

Monday, Braun spoke first. He shared how he thinks “we’re at an interesting place in time, to where we all know what the disease is about,” touching on the coronavirus’ peculiarities, and how while some who become infected are asymptomatic or have mild bouts of sickness, certain parts of the population can be affected in “a horrific way.”

He stressed that “we’ve gotta make sure our health care providers on the front lines fighting against it are protected.”

“I think, going forward, the real solution is gonna be to not backslide at all in what all of us have done,” Braun said. “And [it] is to have a smart restart to the economy.”

The challenge moving ahead, he said, is to stay safe and make sure when we begin a new normal, we do so in a way that “doesn’t give any ground back to the disease.”

Messmer delivered his information next. He spoke appreciatively of how federal bills have helped streamline financial assistance to businesses across the state and country. (Braun later spoke of “another package” that is being discussed at the federal level that would plus “up the amount” in the Paycheck Protection Program).

“We’ve done everything we can at the state level to ramp up where we’ve tried to implement any of those programs,” Messmer said. “Or where we’ve been partnering with the federal folks on unemployment benefits for out-of-place Hoosiers. Even rolling that down to small business owners who normally would not have been eligible for unemployment.”

Continuing, Messmer shared how he was part of a productive meeting with Gov. Eric Holcomb on Friday. It included information about the surge in Indiana unemployment applications.

A year ago, around 17,000 applications would have been processed in a typical month. In the last four to five weeks, Messmer said, 471,000 of those applications have been processed.

Each of those claims has to be processed and verified by a human being, he explained, and the state is beefing up that team through the use of contracted services.

“The amount of claims they’ve been able to digest and work through has been Herculean, and hats off to them for what they’ve done,” Messmer said.

He added that as the state begins looking into how to reopen the economy, hospitals and out-patient centers across the state — other than a couple hot spots — reported a low patient load of those fighting COVID-19, and even in the areas with lots of confirmed cases, “the amount of those folks who were in the hospital and in ICU was really a very small fraction of that.”

“And so with that in mind, one of the first things we were gonna push for today was allowing out-patient surgery centers and hospitals to start to do elective procedures at the expiration of today’s current executive order,” Messmer explained. “And he [Holcomb] seems to be in agreement to do that.”

The state senator said the state’s benchmark when it comes to reopening other parts of the economy will be tied to enabling medical facilities to continue to safely and effectively treat patients.

“And they’ll continue to ease up the restrictions on business openings and crowd sizes as time goes on,” Messmer said. “Just monitoring at all times. The last thing they want to do is have an avalanche of patients that the hospitals can’t treat.”

Spinner and Vonderheide spoke of operations at the county level. Spinner praised the work of the Dubois County Health Department and the regular updates it has provided in recent weeks.

“The health department reminds us the decisions that we’re making now will impact us not only today and tomorrow, but for years to come,” he said. “So, just stay home.”

In addition to state and federal programs that can help small businesses, Spinner also spoke of the loan program the city of Huntingburg has launched to provide assistance, too. Applicants can apply for a loan of up to $5,000, with an interest rate of 1.5% for a three-year term. Payments do not begin for three months, and the funds have been made available through the city’s already-established Huntingburg revolving loan fund. Dubois Strong has also launched a similar program.

“By putting in place a stay-at-home order by the governor, we bought time to prepare for a long fight with this enemy,” Vonderheide said in the final minutes of the stream. “And every single day, we’re learning more about COVID-19. We need more time to ensure the safety of our citizens with proven treatment protocol and even the potential for immunization.”

He continued by saying that even in the actions taken by the federal, state and local governments to provide relief during this pandemic, “there is the reality that families and individuals that were once thriving in a dynamic economy are now being faced with unemployment and financial ruin.”

The challenge for these families will be regaining their financial stability in the months and years ahead, he said.

“In the months ahead, there will be a need to provide assistance in the form of a hand-up,” Vonderheide said. “Instead of a handout. We need to provide encouragement and opportunities for individuals and families to succeed. Where there’s a need, we should help.”

He later said that a local planning committee is preparing a roll out to “reengage our economy in conjunction with the expectations of the governor of the state of Indiana.”

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