Mayors encourage staying informed, social distancingMarch 23, 2020
By ALLEN LAMAN
JASPER — Friday afternoon, Jasper Mayor Dean Vonderheide moseyed into the council chambers at Jasper City Hall and settled into his regular seat for a joint COVID-19 update with Huntingburg Mayor Denny Spinner.
But something seemed off.
Except for a handful of media representatives and city hall employees, the room was eerily empty. And Spinner wasn’t actually there — his face instead beamed to a laptop screen that sat beside Vonderheide.
Like many who are turning to video calls to communicate in an era of social distancing, the mayors’ broadcast was conducted remotely, via Facebook Live, as a safety precaution.
During their brief discussion — which was translated into Spanish by Eber Menjivar, who serves on the Jasper Utility Service Board — the mayors detailed the ongoing collaboration between their cities, spoke of ways the spreading coronavirus has impacted their operations, and offered an answer to the question on everyone’s minds.
“So, the question is, ‘What can I do?’” Spinner said near the conclusion of the 10-and-a-half-minute broadcast. “I know everyone’s wondering about that. The first thing we can say to you is just stay informed. Make your decisions based on the best information that is available. That’s changing every day, and sometimes, every hour.”
Spinner also encouraged community members to refer to the Dubois County Health Department and the State of Indiana’s websites for that information.
“Focus on what you can control and not what you can’t,” he said. “Take care of yourself, focus on personal health practices such as washing hands and using the tissue if you cough. Practice social distancing, as we’re trying here today.”
He continued: “Act as if you have the virus, and don’t want to spread it to anyone else, when you think about that distancing. And, especially, if you are not feeling well, just stay at home.”
At the time of the event, there had been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Dubois County, and Vonderheide and Spinner were not aware of anyone who had been tested. That changed Sunday morning, when the announcement of the county’s first confirmed case of the coronavirus was made.
The mayors participate in daily updates with local stakeholders, including the Dubois County Health Department, Memorial Hospital and Health Care Center, county government and school corporations, various health care providers, social organizations and law enforcement agencies. Vonderheide said after the broadcast that Chris James, Ferdinand’s town manager, has also been involved in discussions between the local municipalities.
Staying up on everything has been consuming, Vonderheide said. He spends much of his time following the national conversation, as well as staying in-tune with what is being said and done at state and county levels. That information is then relayed to the city’s departments.
The decisions the cities are making are being made to protect employees, while also protecting the services that are crucial to the lives of citizens.
“Everybody’s got questions,” Vonderheide said. “We may not have answers, but we may be able to direct them to … the right people to get an answer, if there are answers available. For a while, there were no answers available.”
Both Huntingburg and Jasper have suspended the termination of utilities for those who cannot make their payments.
“With many families at home, now’s not the time to restrict those services,” Vonderheide said.
Board and commissions in each city will continue to meet, but the meetings will be limited to only essential matters, per an executive order from Gov. Eric Holcomb. Attendance at the meetings will also be limited.
Vonderheide spoke about the local bars and restaurants that have adapted their business models, as well as the other kinds of businesses that remain open at this time.
“These people are your neighbors,” he said. “They support you and your organizations when called upon. Now’s the time for us to support them.”
In his final thoughts, he told viewers the cities are “doing our best to adapt to the rapidly changing circumstances.”
“We’re all in this together,” Vonderheide said. “And we appreciate your cooperation.”
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