BY: DAVID SHEPHERD, NEWS DIRECTOR
DUBOIS COUNTY -- Local and state officials are continuing to look at how and when to reopen sections of our economy after being under a stay-at-home order for nearly a month due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Monday, the mayors of Jasper and Huntingburg held a virtual briefing to update residents on the local response.
"By putting in place a stay-at-home order by the governor, we bought time to prepare for a long fight with this enemy [the pandemic]," says Jasper Mayor Dean Vonderheide. "We need more time to ensure the safety of all of our citizens with proven treatment protocols and even the potential for immunization."
Vonderheide continued, "Even with the actions taken by the federal, state and local governments to provide relief during this pandemic, there's the reality that families and individuals who were once thriving in a dynamic economy are now being faced with unemployment and financial ruin. The challenges for these families with be regaining financial stability in the months and years ahead."
IN HUNTINGBURG --
Huntingburg mayor Denny Spinner says the community will get through this crisis, and there is help available for those who need it.
The city of Huntingburg is offering a helping hand to small businesses during the COVID-19 outbreak.
The Huntingburg Emergency Loan Program is available to applicants for up to $5,000 with an interest rate of 1.5%. The funds are being made available through the pre-established Huntingburg Revolving Loan Fund.
“We recognize the extreme hardship on our local businesses during this unprecedented time,” says Mayor Denny Spinner. “While both state and federal programs like this are already available to small businesses, our goal is to offer support on a local level, as well, which we hope will help minimize the economic impact of this COVID-19 pandemic on our neighbors and friends.”
There will be two rounds of grant funding. Applications for the first round will be due on Thursday, April 30, 2020 and awarded on Monday, May 11. To be eligible for the Huntingburg Emergency Loan Program, applicants must be an existing business within the City limits of Huntingburg. HELP applications are available online at huntingburg-in.gov.
STATE AND FEDERAL OFFICIALS --
U.S. Sen. Mike Braun also took part in the virtual briefing Monday afternoon on Facebook Live and Zoom. "The challenge we have going forward is to stay safe, and make sure that, when we do get back to, it won't be normal but it will be a 'new normal' for a while, that we do it in a way that doesn't give any ground back to the disease."
State Sen. Mark Messmer of Jasper, also at Monday’s briefing, says state officials are doing everything they can to battle the virus.
"If I can go to Walmart and I can buy groceries and I can buy clothes and I can buy hardware and I can buy tools, everything I can buy at one retail establishment, but the guy next door I can't," asks the State Senator from Jasper. "Is it any less safe going into a clothing retailer on the Square than it is to buy clothes at Walmart or any other large retailer that was considered essential?
Starting Tuesday, hospitals can resume diagnostic or screening tests. The state will monitor inventories of hospital beds, protective gear, anesthetic, and other supplies, and unless a shortage develops, elective surgeries can resume next Monday. Those have been on hold since the original stay-home order a month ago.
48-percent of the state's intensive care beds are currently open.
It's the first time Governor Holcomb has loosened restrictions since first closing nonessential businesses and urging Hoosiers to stay home. Holcomb says he hopes to be able to announce additional, cautious steps toward reopening the state when the latest version of the order expires May 1. But he's reemphasizing the reopening won't come all at once, and will be driven by the numbers.
State health commissioner Kristina Box says individual hospital systems might not resume elective procedures even when the state gives the green light. She says there are still some areas of the state where protective equipment is in shorter supply. Box says that need for masks, gowns and gloves is also the primary obstacle to expanding testing for the virus, which health experts agree is a key step before lifting restrictions. She says there are enough tests, but the technicians performing them have to have proper protective gear.
Box says she'll talk with hospitals Tuesday or Wednesday about ways to address those gaps.
Holcomb says it "won't be business as usual" when businesses reopen. Workplaces may need to institute "deep cleans" to disinfect surfaces more regularly, and make more allowances for workers to wash their hands. State health commissioner Kristina Box says there could also be a phaseout of the stay-at-home half of the order, with senior citizens and Hoosiers with underlying health conditions continuing to work from home while others are allowed to return to work.
Box says she's hopeful but not convinced that Indiana has passed the peak of the infection curve. So far, she says Indiana's infection rates are tracking the best-case scenario of the models assessiong how the virus might progress. Holcomb credits Hoosiers with keeping the virus in check by obeying pleas to observe social distancing.
But Holcomb warns Saturday's protest demanding an immediate lifting of the lockdown order runs the risk of sparking a fresh round of infection. Holcomb and Box say opponents of his emergency order have every right to protest. But Holcomb says the crowd of people clustered together without masks represent "a perfect Petri dish" for people to catch or spread the virus.
You can see the full briefing below....