(WEHT) — Days before Evansville’s mask mandate goes into effect, Mayor Lloyd Winnecke joined Brad Byrd for InDEPTH.
Brad Byrd: This is in depth, and this is the symbol of our times, a symbol of division among millions of Americans: to wear or not to wear the mask. Health experts around the country say it can flatten the curve. It can save lives. There is a push now to mandate face masks in Evansville as the city and Vanderburgh County have approached 800 positive cases of COVID-19. Joining me tonight is Evansville Mayor Lloyd Winnecke. He issued an executive order that will be effective this Wednesday to put the mask on. Mayor, what took you to this point? And did we possibly reopen too soon?
Lloyd Winnecke: I don’t think we opened too soon, Brad. But from the beginning I’ve said I did not want to get to a point where we had to mandate or issue a directive to require face coverings. I think what government is doing, government at all levels between testing and tracing, offering best practices on how businesses and institutions can safely reopen, I didn’t think we also would have to say you have to wear a mask. But if you look at the numbers over the last 14 days and Vanderburgh County, 14 days ago, we had seven new cases. We’ve been as high as 55. And we seem to be in the 40s and 30s. Now, the positivity rate is growing, that is the percentage of tests that are positive relative to the number of tests. All those factors help me think we were at that point, we have to do something different. We have a Medical Advisory Group that’s kept us well positioned all throughout this pandemic. And early Friday morning, we had another meeting, and the group unanimously felt this was the direction to go. And reluctantly, that’s where we are.
BB: You know, it’s very hard to legislate behavior. The enforcement issue and this is not a problem that’s just facing Evansville, South Bend is also facing this as far as law enforcement getting involved to enforce the measure against individuals. Is this putting more pressure then on businesses like restaurants and retail stores?
LW: We’re certainly looking at this, much like the governor did with his stay at home order, and that is there was no real mechanism for enforcement with that, but we are relying on everyone’s good nature and their good intent to do the right thing. It does not take a lot to wear a mask of any kind to help protect the public health. We’re relying on people to do the right thing.
BB: Do you feel like the city council proposal and what your proposal could be worked out as a hybrid option perhaps on masks?
LW: You know, intuitively, I think that we’re not going to need both an executive order and an ordinance by the legislative body to require the masks. So I think what will happen over the next couple of weeks, council, along with the administration, will continue to monitor the activities to see if both are required, but I’m not sure we need both.
BB: You know, Mayor, the numbers indeed are growing here. Evansville, Vanderburgh County, it seems somewhat strange in the early going on this, although we got 182,000 people in the county that includes Evansville, but the numbers were relatively low, which is a good thing. But the behavior of people after the reopening, especially after Memorial Day, people want to get out [for] July 4. What do you say to the people who are possibly wanting to get to that norm too fast?
LW: No one wants to get to that old norm any more than I do, believe me. I think we need to keep in mind this is still a novel virus. That is to say, there is a lot the medical community does not know about this virus. So just because we’re back on track and reopening does not mean we should let our guard down. There is still plenty we can do as individuals, as those of us who lead businesses and institutions, to keep the curve flat. And right now we’re on the wrong trajectory. We’re going this way when we need to be going that way. And I think if you look at our numbers, prior to the reopening, we were doing a lot of the right things. And so what we hope is that this will help get us back to where our numbers are better and the trajectory is going the right way and not the wrong way.
BB: Well, your COVID Response Task Force is looking at all of the aspects of living in our community and that includes going to school. You were a student in the EVSC yourself. These kids and their parents, how does that strike you right now with the reopening in one of the largest school corporations in the state of Indiana in just a few weeks?
LW: Well, I know that Dr. Smith and his team at the EVSC are working probably nearly around the clock to create contingencies. And I know many, most parents want schools back open, but they also want to open safely. And, you know, if wearing a mask can help protect the spread of the virus, I think that means that schools have one more tool to make people, parents, faculty, staff, students, one more tool to make them feel better. So I know that Dr. Smith and his team want nothing more to provide a safe environment and I know they’re working diligently to provide that whenever schools open.
BB: I know that there are so many facets of basically doing business in Evansville. We’ve lost several events this year. Basically the fireworks display, the Fall Festival. We never dreamed that could possibly happen but it has, the Frog Follies. With that being said, some events are going on. The Deaconess Softball Park tournaments. From what I understand, it brings people in from several areas of the country. Well attended event, the kids love it. Are there any concerns there?
LW: Well, the concerns are that people continue to do all the right things: wear masks, practice social distancing, wash your hands, sanitize your hands on a regular basis. If we all do those things, we can continue on a reopening path, Brad, no matter whether it’s the Deaconess Sports Park or the Civic Center. You know the challenge that businesses have and city government is not alone in this is that we need healthy employees and a healthy workforce. We have an entire city department that is not working until July 21, because of covid, we have one employee who’s tested positive. And the rest of those folks, the rest of this person’s colleagues have been exposed. So they’re in quarantine. So, city government, like any other business, is not immune to this. But we can all protect our working environment. We can all protect our kids, our families by practicing all the things we’ve been talking about for months now.
BB: We’ll be sharing updates with you and I know you’ll be sharing updates with us. Thank you so much for your time tonight, Mayor Winnecke and stay safe.
LW: My pleasure. Thank you, Brad.