City Hall closes

All offices inside City Hall, 201 Vigo St., are closed after an employee in the city inspector’s office this week tested positive for COVID-19. Mayor Joe Yochum announced on Wednesday that City Hall would be closed until Oct. 26 and all previously scheduled meetings are canceled save but city council, which is expected to hold their meeting on Oct. 13 either elsewhere or virtually. The mayor said these signs are incorrect and that the closure is expected to last until Oct. 26.

A case of COVID-19 inside City Hall has prompted Mayor Joe Yochum to close the building to the public until Oct. 26.

Wednesday, a single confirmed case of the virus was linked to the city inspector’s office, prompting the mayor to quickly close the facility.

Though most COVID-related closures last only two weeks, Yochum said he and Knox County Health Officer Dr. Alan Stewart decided it was in the best interest of city employees and the public to leave the doors closed a little longer.

“We decided we’d rather be safe than sorry,” Yochum said.

A key factor, explained Stewart, is allowing enough time to ensure other city officials and employees aren’t COVID-positive.

“The mayor and I want to make sure employees are safe and COVID-free, and we want to be sure the public is safe” he said.

With a number of offices inside of City Hall — from the mayor to clerk-treasurer to city inspector and the parks department — Stewart said adequate social distancing measures would have been difficult to achieve.

Too, he said, it seems unlikely that all employees would have been masked at all times throughout the day, so a number of city workers may have been exposed to the virus early this week.

Fortunately, much of the work of staff members can be conducted remotely, so the city’s business should continue and staff will be paid during the office closure.

Yochum said phones and voicemail messages will be closely monitored, so residents are urged to simply call the appropriate office to handle any immediate concerns.

City council president Tim Salters also confirmed that the upcoming Oct. 13 council meeting will be held remotely via Zoom. More information about public access to the meeting is forthcoming.

And right on the heels of the mayor’s closure of City Hall came word that an entire first grade class at Tecumseh-Harrison Elementary School is being quarantined after a staff member tested positive for the coronavirus on Tuesday.

Tim Salters, director of communications for the Vincennes Community School Corp., said because such young students are not required to mask, VCSC administrators believed it best to send the whole classroom of students home for the quarantine period.

And Dr. Stewart agrees, saying he applauds VCSC for making the decision to take serious action to prevent further spread.

“I feel very strongly that this is the way to handle the situation,” he said. “Past experience has shown that the more extensive mitigation and prevention methods have been extremely successful.

“We’ve been burned a couple of times when we tried to take shortcuts,” Stewart added.

Though Knox County saw a few days with only a handful of new cases, Stewart said by Tuesday the county was once again seeing about ten new positive cases per day, and he’s concerned about surges in nearby counties, too.

“Southwest Indiana has been seeing a surge, and Evansville is seeing a huge stress on their hospitals,” Stewart noted of the nearby city.

Despite ten deaths in Knox County so far and nearly 550 confirmed cases of the virus, Stewart said a number of people still aren’t taking the pandemic seriously, likely resulting in continued community spread.

In regards to masking — currently the best known way to reduce spread of the novel coronavirus — the health officer says he often sees more people without masks than with them when inside area businesses.

“I see a lot of older people who are more susceptible to complications from the virus without masks — and people with their children,” he said. “They should know better, and be setting a better example.”

Indiana has seen more than 120,000 cases of the virus since March, and nearly 3,500 COVID-related deaths.

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