WARSAW – The city of Warsaw will close all city buildings beginning Wednesday, March 18, as officials consider new ways to slow the spread of coronavirus, said Mayor Joe Thallemer.
The restrictions, which also include a ban on non-essential travel for city workers, was announced Monday night at the regular city council meeting, which took on an odd appearance as five of the seven city council members spanned out and took seats in the gallery as a way to accentuate the need for “social distancing.”
Other temporary changes in policy that will continue until April 29 include:
- Essential city meetings will be held with less than ten people. Non-essential meetings will be done with phones or virtual methods.
- All of the park department’s recreational activities have been canceled
- Park facility rentals have been canceled
- City board meetings will be limited to time-sensitive and essential issues.
- The police department’s public window will be closed, but requests for reports and other services will be made at the intercom.
- Sewer bills can be paid online, mailed or delivered to the drop off box outside City Hall.
The statement also said city departments are developing COVID-19 emergency response procedures for services with the community.
At the same time, temporary changes are being considered by the city’s personnel policy if short-term changes are needed.
The first instance of that came Monday night when the council approved a request that will allow the city to pay workers if they need to work from home.
The move would only apply to those whose jobs would allow them to work at home. Nobody has been given approval to do so yet and it is more of a contingency plan, Thallemer said.
The move could be used in case somebody in the office tests positive for COVID-19 and other co-workers would need to self-quarantine, Human Resources Director Jennifer Whitaker said.
Whitaker is looking at possible temporary changes for Family Medical Leave, but much of that could ultimately come from the federal government, she said.
“What we’re facing could be unprecedented as far as employees needing time off,” Thallemer said. “We know there might be challenges and we want to respond to that.”
Thallemer said they will meet with department heads this week to look at other changes.
He said the moves by the city are consistent with what’s happening in many other cities across the state.
“We’re in a pretty tight situation as far as taking the bull by the horns. We’ve got an opportunity with this pandemic being relatively new in our country – we do have a chance to get ahead of it, but we can’t hesitate,” Thallemer told the council.
Thallemer said that if a case of “community spread” surfaces locally, “We will re-evaluate these measures immediately.”
Moves by the city came at the same time Gov. Eric Holcomb called for restaurants and bars across the state to close for the most part. Exceptions are being made for drive-throughs for eateries and carry-out for liquor stores.
Councilman Michael Klondaris asked Thallemer if he had any advice for small business owners, some of whom are wondering whether to remain open for business.
Some of those decisions by businesses may very well be dictated by the demand for services, Thallemer said.
The virus dominated much of the meeting’s discussion from beginning to end. Councilwoman Diane Quance’s invocation focused on the virus. Council president Jack Wilhite thanked the mayor for his work. And Councilman Jeff Grose applauded the city’s use of social distancing by having council members spread out in the gallery.
The severity of the circumstances facing the city, state and country were summed up in a note Thallemer received Sunday night from Kip Tom, an agriculture business leader from Leesburg who serves as an ambassador for President Trump. Tom is currently in Rome, Italy, which is on a shutdown of sorts over the virus.
Italy has seen its daily death toll soar into the hundreds in recent days.
“Joe, as a civic leader, takes the COVID-19 threat seriously,” the text read, before going on to describe conditions in Italy. “Be bold and deal with this early and aggressively. You are not immune.”