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Gainesville City Leaders Host Telephone Town Hall Meeting To Address COVID-19 Questions

Gainesville mayor Lauren Poe at a November 2017 meeting. (WUFT News)
Gainesville mayor Lauren Poe at a November 2017 meeting. (WUFT News)

Gainesville residents listened on their phones as Mayor Lauren Poe, Dr. Lisa Chacko and the city's Emergency Management Team on Wednesday discussed local concerns regarding COVID-19.

The main objective of the town hall meeting was to answer listeners’ questions by phone and give an update about what the city is doing. Of the 20 questions the officials answered over the course of an hour, the most prominent topics centered around sanitation and testing.

“When we don’t have testing it’s like a hurricane’s coming to town but the radar’s off,” said Chacko, a professor at the University of Florida College of Medicine.

Chacko addressed the issue of the global testing shortage. She said that testing needs to be ramped up, but everyone in the world is trying to get a hold of the same tests. In order to try to prevent hospitals from becoming overcrowded, Chacko said that it is important to help protect the health care capacity. Health care workers need to get tested for COVID-19 to assure that they are healthy.

“This is the perfect opportunity to remind you all how important it is that you really protect our health care workforce by not putting unnecessary demands on the system,” Chacko said. “We want to protect those that will be protecting us if things get worse.”

Read more: What You Need To Know About Coronavirus In Florida

Sanitation also came up multiple times in the meeting. Members of the community asked questions regarding busses, work and public places.

City Manager Lee Feldman, who joined the city in November, said that they are tripling the amount of cleaning done on buses daily. He also said the city purchased cleaning machines to put into each bus that will disinfect and sanitize the inside.

One of the reasons that stores, such as Publix, are closing early is so that restocking and deep cleaning can be done. Poe said people were practicing abnormal purchasing patterns when the outbreak first began, such as with toilet paper. He added that there is not an actual shortage and that items are being restocked.

“This isn’t like a hurricane where everything gets bought out and then things shut down and then we go into recovery. Things will constantly be restocked, replaced,” Poe said.

With new changes and restrictions, residents are unsure about what precautions should be taken. Establishments such as recreational facilities and bars are closed completely. Restaurants have different hours.

Uber and Lyft drivers can still work full time. When asked a question regarding the safety of employees for companies such as Uber and Lyft, Chacko said driving with the windows down will help. She also said that drivers can ask customers to use hand sanitizer before getting into the vehicle. Chacko asked the facilitators to flag the question so that she can look into it more, because it is a common question.

Poe said city residents have created Facebook groups regarding COVID-19 that anyone can join. One of them is focused on how everyone can help one another during this time.

Gainesville, like the rest of the United States, is currently in the prevention phase of the pandemic. The main goal by the end of March is to ensure that the least possible amount of people get infected and to “flatten the curve.” During the coming weeks, Poe said it is important to support health care professionals and to keep everyone healthy.

In April and beyond, he said, Gainesville will be in recovery mode.

This will focus on supporting small businesses, helping those without jobs, and ensuring house and food security.

“What is acceptable or allowable under our emergency directives today might change tomorrow or might change this weekend,” Poe said.  “I don’t want anybody to think that the conditions that we’re living under now are what it’s going to be going forward for the next 30 to 60 days.”

Kaliope is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.