Hamilton County officials work to keep residents informed during crisis

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Officials in Hamilton County are trying to keep residents informed during the spread of the coronavirus outbreak.

Emergency response officials answered questions via a livestream broadcast on Facebook Live on Wednesday night to provide updates on efforts in the county, which so far has two official cases of the virus.

Officials have not expanded restrictions on businesses and travel countywide—as Indianapolis, Fishers and Carmel have done—but they did answer viewer questions and provided updates on enhanced safety measures elsewhere.

“Over the past week, as you all know, times have changed dramatically for almost all of us,” Christine Altman, a Hamilton County commissioner, said. “Our goal is to help you weather the storm as best as we can without interruption of government services.”

Although the county does not have current plans to discontinue services, local courts have petitioned the state’s Supreme Court to be able to reschedule hearings and operate under emergency conditions, she said.

“I understand how important these court dates are, but the courts are going to have to do that for their safety and the safety of their litigants,” Altman said.

The Hamilton Circuit and Superior Courts on late Thursday morning declared an emergency operations plan which it said would change the way it operates. But the courts will continue to be open and hold essential emergency hearings, it said.

Hamilton County Information Technology Director Chris Mertens said Wednesday the county is currently working with judges to schedule video conferences with attorneys and their clients so the parties don’t have to meet in the courtroom.

Altman said anyone who comes to the county’s courthouse exhibiting signs of illness will be asked to leave, and they will be “helped” out of the building if necessary.

Hamilton County Sheriff Dennis Quakenbush also addressed prevention methods used at the county’s jail.

Not only is there 24-hour medical staff and negative-airflow cells on-site, but officials are also questioning and taking the temperature of those arrested before either quarantining them or moving them into the general population, he said.

County officials highlighted statewide limits already in effect for large gatherings, bars and restaurants.

Several of the more than 650 residents who tuned-in to the Facebook Live asked why the county wasn’t requiring child-care centers, nail and hair salons, gyms and other businesses that require close proximity with customers to close.

Chris Walker, emergency preparedness coordinator for the Hamilton County Health Department, answered a question about nail salons, specifically, by saying they aren’t considered high risk.

As for day cares, Walker said continued operations at those facilities are an important services that help first responders, health care employees and other essential workers remain available.

He said the state’s Family and Social Services Administration has guidelines for day cares about when to close due to an outbreak, how customers should be contacted, how to clean their facilities and when they’re able to reopen.

“We strive to get this over as quickly as possible, but unfortunately, this looks like it’s going to be a marathon and not a sprint,” Walker said.

Altman added the state’s health department, then the county’s, are the entities responsible for determining which businesses are high risk.

“We have been planning for years, quite honestly, since 9/11. This may last much longer than some of our plans, so we need to be planned for that. This is not something government will fix,” Altman said. “It’s just going to be a community-based solution.”

A few hours after the county’s livestream ended, Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard declared a local emergency implementing some of the same travel restrictions implemented by Fishers Mayor Scott Fadness two days prior.

The order, effective starting 7 p.m. Wednesday, closed all Carmel public playgrounds, advised local fitness facilities to close, and recommended banks only offer ATM and drive-thru services.

Trails and multi-use paths remain open throughout Carmel. The order said gyms in the city should offer only individual training sessions.

The order will be in effect until a further declaration is issued, or as determined by the mayor.

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