(WEHT) — As the coronavirus pandemic continues to affect daily life, Brad Byrd talked to Evansville Mayor Lloyd Winnecke about his city and the possibility of Indiana reopening.
BB: Evansville has weathered many storms, human tragedy. We have always come back, but we are going through something now that is extraordinary. Joining me now is Evansville Mayor Lloyd Winnecke. Mayor you’re in the middle of the decision making, you’re affected by state and federal governments. Tuesday you announced a plan to reopen the city when it is safe to do so. How challenging is that going to be for you and your task force?
LW: Well it will be extraordinarily challenging because we’re taking guidance both from the federal government and the state government. We’ve heard the president’s new guidance, the Governor of Indiana, Eric Holcomb, will make some updates in his briefing tomorrow so we take what they give us and try to build from that. Frankly, we know that there are many areas that we’ll have questions for that we won’t have answers to. We know that primarily we’re focused on five main areas: business assistance- how do we help businesses reopen and what does that look like? Is it sector by sector? We don’t know that answer yet but hopefully it will come with some guidance from higher government entities. Broader community testing- we know that there needs to be more testing. We know there needs to be testing so one employees are comfortable going back to work and employers feel like they’re offering a safe workplace. Dr. Steve Becker from the Stone Family Center for Health Sciences has a team working on that in the very early stages. We know that quality of life will be really important so we have a whole team trying to address quality of life issues. We know that government operation, what city government looks like today may not be what city government looks like on the other side of this. And last but not least we need to continue to work on food security. We’ve had a number of great community volunteers in the last many weeks that have been working their tails off to make sure those under-served parts of our community continue to be fed and we need to continue to focus on that. So those are the five major points of our task force and I have no doubt in the coming days we might have to add more.
BB: And mayor the reality is in all this some health and economic analysts say the new norm as they’re calling it could last up to two years. Social distancing for example at restaurants and face masks being worn at all times when you’re out in public will be the protocol. What do you tell some people here in Evansville who want to reopen right now?
LW: I think we’ll say what we’ve been saying and there’s a balance. We have to protect public health but on the other hand we can’t drive the economy into the ground so what we have expressed to Governor Holcomb, we’ve really encouraged his administration to look at a regional reopening if you will and specifically look to Southwest Indiana. Frankly, our numbers are much better than other parts of the state so look at us and let us start to turn on first. It has to be a gradual reopening, People have used this analogy a bunch, it’s not just flipping a light switch on, everything’s going to be more or less on a dimmer and we’re gonna have to slowly increase the activity in the community but there’s a balance so we have to make sure we protect the public health but make sure we can get the economy going back as best as possible.
BB: And with that said Mayor as you well know Indiana, the dynamics of our population are so different what might be playing up in fort wayne or south bend is not being played down here in Evansville and Southwestern Indiana is indeed a region that is dynamic in the way it is structured demographically and our healthcare system. How closely are you keeping in touch with Governor Holcomb on this? Because if we have one set of rules here gradual as you say in Southwestern Indiana those may be totally different than those up in the northern and central part of the state where people from here will travel?
LW: We’ve had very direct and ongoing conversations with administration, with the governor, with members of his staff as well as Lieutenant Governor Suzanne Crouch. She’s from Evansville, she’s very keen about what’s going on here and wants to make sure she represents what’s going on here. You talk about the regional nature of Evansville, I’ve talked to Mayor Steve Austin, Judge Executive Schnieder, Mayor Curtis in Mount Vernon, Mayor Wright in Princeton, Mayor Wyatt in Boonville, Newburgh Town Manager Christy Powell all to make sure they know what we’re doing because we exchange, we share labor forces right and many people that live in Henderson for example work in Evansville and vice versa so we’re communicating to our regional partners to make sure we’re all on the same page as well.
BB: Some of the fallout of covid 19 is out of the city’s hands. I’m gonna ask you from a personal standpoint- the images of all those empty parking lots. Years ago you and I often talked about when we were working in the same newsroom perception versus reality and it can be cruel. What are you hearing from local businesses on what could happen if they don’t get help and soon?
LW: You know candidly we know this many will fail, many will not reopen and for that it’s a tragedy and many will come back under a different business model than how they founded their business. Many will find a different business line or different product lines to expand into. Some will reinvent themselves, others won’t be able to reinvent themselves and you’re right, it is out of the city’s hands, it’s part of the broader dynamic of the world and Evansville isn’t on an island, this is playing out in city after city across our world and i know many small business owners especially whose personal dream has been to open a business that’s important to them. this is a horrendous time for them and my heart goes out to them. You said it at the beginning, we’ve come through a lot, We will come through this again, we don’t know what any of this will look like for sure on the other side of it but We are all in it together and if i’ve learned anything in 8+ years of being mayor i know we have a huge heart in our community and we’ll continue to help each other to the greatest extent possible.
BB: Mayor Lloyd Winnecke thank you for sharing your thoughts with our viewers tonight and to you and your family stay healthy and stay safe. We can’t say enough good things about our healthcare workers, our business community and our every day citizens who are doing everything they’re being asked to do. Thank you so much for joining us tonight.
LW: My pleasure, thank you Brad.