On Thursday evening, Gainesville residents listened on their phones as Mayor Lauren Poe and Alachua County officials hosted a “COVID-19 Telephone Town Hall.”
The phone call was aimed at answering questions about what actions the city is taking to keep people and businesses safe. This was the first telephone town hall held after Alachua County and the City of Gainesville on Tuesday issued a stay-at-home order.
During the hourlong phone call, concerned residents brought up topics like COVID-19 testing, childcare safety and the updated containment strategy.
Mayor Poe announced that there will be increased testing for COVID-19 in Alachua County, which currently has 53 confirmed cases.
Callers identified themselves by their first names. One named Maria asked about how medical assistance might be impacted for residents with concerns about their citizenship status.
Paul Meyers, administrator of the Alachua County Health Department, urged Maria and all Gainesville residents to seek testing if symptoms worsen in self-quarantine, especially if they are part of an at-risk group due to their age or pre-existing conditions.
“No disease will be a boundary to your safety as a Gainesville resident, regardless of immigration status,” Meyers said.
Aside from questions about testing, the safety of childcare centers was also mentioned during the town hall.
Kim, a childcare worker, asked Poe and the panel of city officials if childcare services are considered safe given the uptick of confirmed cases in children, including a positive test in a two-year-old earlier this week.
Meyers stated that unless there has been a confirmed case in a childcare center, they should still be safe for children. Poe added that childcare centers are required to abide by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s social distancing regulations, meaning that there should be no more than 10 people in a room, including the caretaker.
“As a parent myself, I will continue to encourage parents to ask the tough questions to childcare providers,” Poe said.
Karen, a senior citizen, asked Mayor Poe about the updated containment strategy for COVID-19. She fears college students on spring break did not take social distancing concerns seriously.
Meyers said that their original containment strategy of identifying, confirming and contact tracing is still being used, and hopes that residents of all ages will take social distancing seriously.
“Each confirmed case we have has likely interacted with 15 to 80 people,” Meyers said.
Though he expects to see additional cases, social distancing will be the main difference in keeping those infection rates as low as possible.
Two small business owners questioned Poe and city officials about when they might be able to open their doors again and how they can support their employees while being shut down.
While Poe had no conclusive answer on when non-essential businesses can open again, he encouraged listeners in the community to support their local businesses by purchasing gift cards and gift certificates to use when social distancing is no longer in effect.
Gordon, a senior citizen with a disability, called with concerns about the cleanliness of the RTS bus he takes to and from his local food bank. As someone with a tight income and no means of personal transportation, he relies entirely on the city’s mass transit system.
Gainesville City Manager Lee Feldman said that increased safety and sanitation measures are in effect for RTS drivers and riders. Aside from the waived bus fare, drivers are asking riders to board a bus only through its rear entrance to maintain the necessary personal space required by the CDC. Feldman said that extra disinfecting has taken place and will continue to take place throughout the pandemic.
The current focus for Gainesville is containing cases, expanding testing and flattening the curve so residents and businesses can get back to normal. In his closing remarks, Poe emphasized the need for social distancing, especially for the healthcare workers who are risking their lives.
“As a city,” he said, “we’re working hard to keep you safe, please work hard to keep yourself and your neighbors safe.”