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Page last updated on September 7, 2021 at 1:10 pm

Hello, and thank you for taking some time to check-in.

I’d like to reflect together on where we are going, and how far we’ve come, as a community, dealing with COVID-19. I’m speaking to you from my home, continuing to physical distance, following health protocols. Let’s take a moment and think about our past ten weeks, and the progress we have made.  

Ten weeks. Is that really all it’s been? Since our world was upended. It was March 11th when the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic from the coronavirus. And since then, every day has brought new facts and new challenges. We’ve seen fatality counts rising, and employment falling. We’ve seen hospital wards fill up, and streets and workplaces eerily empty. 

It’s been ten tough weeks around the world, around the US, and right here in Bloomington. People have gotten sick, some desperately, some fatally. We’ve lost family members and neighbors. Thousands have applied for unemployment. Tens of thousands of students left early for hometowns. Hundreds of local businesses and nonprofits have shut down or trimmed operations. Stress has hit many very hard. Just over the past ten weeks.

But this is Bloomington. We have stepped up and stood up and held together magnificently in these ten weeks. For that, as your mayor, I want to say thank you. 

First to our healthcare workers, thanks to all of you who risk your lives to save ours. From hospitals to clinics to senior care centers to pharmacies to ambulances, every day you show up to work, and you are heroes to us.  

We all owe thanks to the people who work every day so the rest of us have the essentials: 

  • our first responders who’ve kept on the job 24/7 --  police, fire, and dispatch, answering every call; 
  • utility workers keeping our water flowing, our lights and heat on, our televisions and internet live; 
  • everyone keeping us fed -- growers and pickers and truck drivers and shelf fillers and sales clerks and cooks and distribution legions; 
  • everyone keeping commerce moving -- bus drivers and postal clerks and delivery drivers and bank tellers and mechanics and construction workers and janitors and phone answerers and plumbers and on and on.

These ten tough weeks have made crystal clear how many people work essential jobs that are too often taken for granted -- in compensation, in dignity, and in respect. 

Let me add a special thanks to everyone who entertains us -- artists who sang or danced or acted or just WERE, online and on social media, with crazy new techniques, to help keep us sane, and grounded, and even laughing and crying as only art can. I’ve found art and creative people seem more important than ever, in these oh so unusual times.

As your mayor, I express a special thanks to my fellow 700 plus city workers, all of whom have kept working during these ten weeks, often in challenging situations, keeping our city going every day: sanitation workers, animal welfare workers, construction inspectors, pothole fillers, tree removers, parks maintenance crews, housing inspectors, and grantmakers and check writers and parking officers and water main fixers and managers and accountants and on and on. You all have done Bloomington proud in your dedication and professionalism.

Just as an example -- one resident told us after the big early April storm blew over trash and recycling bins left out for pickup, leaving a terrible mess, it was none other than Rhea Carter, the Director of Sanitation, who went out at 5 a.m. to start cleaning up folks’ front yards.  The resident who observed her told us that it inspired him to follow suit, and he spent the next three hours picking up trash too. That’s above and beyond, and emblematic of your commitment. Thanks Rhea, and thanks all of you.

Our teachers deserve special thanks, as they suddenly went from full rooms inspiring and caring for young people to new, strange at-home learning plans at a distance. Teachers who give their heart and soul to their students every day had to figure out how to keep thousands of our young residents learning and safe in all-new ways. 

And finally let me share a big Bloomington thanks to all the parents and grandparents -- our families -- who often upended their own work and family lives, with different work hours, or no hours, with kids now home not at school, jumping into whatever it took to keep things going - camp counselor, teacher, nurse, coach, music tutor, scientist, you name it. Families adjusted to this new world over these ten weeks, and so many have done so splendidly.

Maybe some of us even learned new grammar rules, or math equations, or science facts we never knew!?

If you haven’t felt personally thanked yet, let me thank you, and all Bloomington residents, for your extraordinary caring for each other and our community during this time. The creativity and jumping-in-to-help have been inspiring.

We've seen drive-by parades for returning military servicepeople, retiring professors, teachers we miss, and physically distanced birthday parties... 

We’ve seen neighborhoods set up treasure hunts for little ones, to find teddy bears in windows or flowers in surprise bouquets…

We’ve seen Bloomington Police officers taking turns reading bedtime stories online.

We saw quilt-makers retool to churn out tens of thousands of fabric masks for Bloomingtonians.

We saw a local distillery known for craft cocktails cook up barrel-fulls of hand sanitizer for free distribution.

We’ve seen dozens of restaurants commit to providing free meals that volunteers distribute weekly through the Monroe County Food Train

We’ve seen little surprises to delight and boost each other: pop-up Christmas lights, trees full of balloons, and yard signs for graduates…

As these countless individual stories were happening, of course, local institutions have been essential too. For many weeks, the City of Bloomington has worked in tandem with County Government, including the Health Department, and IU Health and Indiana University, to coordinate the health efforts locally. As a community we have successfully flattened the curve and protected our health care workers and systems from a calamitous surge of patients. Ten deaths in our county is ten too many. But it could have been much much worse. Our local efforts have paid dividends in more people alive today.

We’ve seen other damage as well. Local restaurants, arts, and humanitarian groups, and so many small businesses have been forced into very rough waters. I asked several community leaders to develop a plan to help preserve jobs and these employers. The City, the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce, the Bloomington Economic Development Corporation, CDFI Friendly Bloomington, The Mill, and others worked feverishly to assemble a plan. And within 30 days they put together two and a half million dollars in local funds for small, low-interest loans and grants to help keep employers afloat. As of today, just about 60 days later, already some $1.3 million is on the streets of Bloomington helping scores of businesses and nonprofits. That’s fast and great work, and we all owe that community-wide team our thanks.

In March, I also convened a task force of other community leaders to address pressing safety-net needs for shelter, food, and childcare. This group helped establish one temporary new, roomier shelter for those experiencing homelessness, and a second new shelter at a vacant motel, for those needing to isolate after symptoms or a diagnosis of COVID. They coordinated child care centers for essential workers, and critical support for emergency food supplies needed locally. This group is also recommending future steps to help us be a more resilient and responsive community in the future. We’ve all learned, I hope, how critical our safety net is, to help those on the edge of or in homelessness, those facing food insecurity, those living with the stress of poverty or uninsured illness or a loved one battling substance use disorder. Thanks to all who weave and repair that safety net every day.

Individuals and institutions all across our community are working together to get through. Like a farmers’ market that has learned to operate online and in two different locations so far. And that’s what it takes. Time and time again, our community has come together, and shown up for each other. Offered a hand. Nourished the better angels of our nature. We can hope, and imagine, that through these ten tough weeks, we’ve seen a path forward, a better course ahead because we’ve learned how interdependent we are. How much each of us depends on so many others. As one Senator has put it: “We all do better, when we all do better.” 

I won’t talk now about that big-picture, wide-angle course ahead -- I’ll come back to that in a few weeks. I want to close by thinking together about how we navigate the specific, continuing challenges of the pandemic over the next weeks and months.

Governor Holcomb has outlined a five-stage reopening plan, hoping to eliminate virtually all health-based mandates by July 4th. He moved most of Indiana into Stage 2 on May 4th and has directed Stage 3 to begin on Friday, May 22nd. I personally am very concerned that this schedule is too aggressive and isn’t adequately justified by health data. We will see. Here in Bloomington and Monroe County, you know we’ve gone more cautiously because our local health indicators told us that we weren’t ready yet. I’d like to publicly thank our health professionals for taking the road they have, attending to our local data, and our local health with dedication and integrity. 

We entered stage two just last weekend and will stay there until at least the end of May. So restaurants, shops, and hair salons are reopening, in modified ways, and small gatherings have been permitted, among other changes. City operations have continued uninterrupted for the duration of this crisis. We will continue to encourage those who can to work remotely, and to contact city services by phone or online if possible. But visitors who need to will be able to conduct business in-person starting Tuesday, May 26, as we reopen City Hall and other City facilities to the public, with significantly different protocols.  

I do have reservations about relaxing restrictions too fast locally. Our local health authorities have made data-driven decisions -- looking at declining new daily cases, declining hospital admission rates and good capacity to serve patients, as well as increasing local testing and contact tracing.

But we know that we don’t know enough about the level of infection in our community, and that worries me. Local testing is increasing, but it is still focused on those showing symptoms, and we still need many more tests, and ultimately of course treatments and a vaccine. Last month a statewide study tested nearly 5,000 randomly selected Hoosiers, and just under 3 percent had either active or previous presence of COVID-19. This number is eleven times greater than the percentage of individual Hoosiers who had been identified by testing in the state thus far. That study also showed that nearly half of those testing positive had no symptoms -- likely never knew they had the disease or were infectious.

That tells us much more testing and tracing will be critical to monitor and manage the pandemic. And it tells us we really need conscientiously to continue things we know work --  physical distancing, face-covering in public, hand washing, and staying home when symptomatic. It reminds us that any of us could be infectious without knowing it, as could anyone we’re near. There’s a pledge I hope you’ll take to follow these basic guidelines -- you can find

So yes, in our community, and Indiana, you are now permitted to dine in a restaurant, get a massage or a haircut, go to a shoe store or a small party. But maybe a grandparent once said to you: Just because you can do it, doesn’t mean you should. Please be careful -- of course especially if you are at higher risk -- but all of us. What we do, how we behave, will determine how and whether this deadly virus spreads more among us. And how we can continue to move, incrementally, safely, toward a better future Bloomington.

Employers and institutions are in rough waters, we know. Let’s each support them responsibly, as additional support comes from governments. Online ordering and curbside pickup are excellent options. Outdoor dining is safer than indoors. Delaying potential exposures even just for a few days or weeks can matter. And thank and respect the workers on the job every day.

One clear lesson of this crisis has been our connectedness. For better and for worse, you might say. For this virus exploits our physical connections. But, as we’ve seen, our social connections, our caring and stepping up and volunteering together, are also a fundamental source of our strength and will be needed for our recovery. Thank you all for how well you have handled these past ten tough weeks. Bloomingtonians have to keep caring for each other. And embrace the future. We will get through this, together, yes. But make no mistake, we have hard choices and big challenges ahead to help Bloomington navigate these rough waters. We all will need to rise to that challenge, so Bloomington can be the inclusive, equitable, sustainable, successful community we want it to be. Keep taking care of Bloomington, and each other. Thank you so much.