Montgomery County leaders urged local people to follow Gov. Eric Holcomb’s two-week “stay-at-home” order except for essential business, saying the move should drastically help in the effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.
The rush on local grocery stores waged on Monday after Holcomb handed down the order, which takes effect just before midnight tonight. Grocery stores can remain open along with banks and pharmacies, and restaurants and bars will still be able to offer carryout or delivery.
“I genuinely understand why many in our community are concerned and, in some cases, are simply scared,” Mayor Todd Barton said in a statement. “Trust me, though, when I say there is no need to panic. Our citizens are safe and not cut off from the outside world.”
No positive cases in Montgomery County of COVID-19, the illness caused by coronavirus, had been confirmed as of 5 p.m. Monday. As of midnight Monday, state health officials reported 259 positive cases in 40 counties. At least seven people have died.
Most people who have come down with the illness have relatively mild symptoms, but it can be deadly for some, especially the elderly and those with underlying health problems. Most people infected with the virus recover in a matter of weeks.
“We just have to do everything we can for our local hospital and healthcare professionals so they don’t become overwhelmed,” Montgomery County Administrator Mark Casteel said. “If our most vulnerable population becomes sick at the same time — like we have seen in other parts of the world and now in our own country — then that’s when things become very dangerous very quick.”
A total of 1,960 tests have been reported to the state health department. Montgomery County has approximately 200 or fewer testing kits on hand, county health officer Dr. Scott Douglas said. Douglas said “potentially thousands” more kits are needed.
Just after Holcomb’s announcement, shoppers were buzzing through the aisles at Kroger, which like other stores has temporarily reduced its hours to restock and clean the stores.
Ellen Rooze, a third grade teacher at Nicholson Elementary, had spent the morning at school making lesson plans for the extended distance learning days. By lunchtime, she was filling her grocery cart with chicken and other food for dinner with her husband.
“Tomorrow’s our anniversary. We won’t be going out,” said Rooze, who had planned to spend spring break in Florida.
A Kroger spokesman said the company echoes Holcomb’s plea for shoppers not to inundate the stores.
“He is wise to remind Hoosiers to buy groceries when they need them, but to buy only what they need,” said Eric Halvorson, public affairs manager for Kroger’s central division. “Food is in the system. There is no need to hoard.”
School meal deliveries will continue for Crawfordsville and South Montgomery schools.
Crawfordsville is serving 1,500 students for breakfast and lunch every day, Superintendent Dr. Scott Bowling said.
In a special meeting at the Emergency Operations Center, the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners extended the public health emergency declaration through April 7, when Holcomb’s order is set to expire.
The declaration gives the commissioners the authority to handle emergency management-related orders, and temporarily suspends the requirements for contracts, purchasing and hiring of personnel during the response.
Since all regular public government meetings are canceled for the duration of the emergency, board president Jim Fulwider has the power to approve and submit claims to the auditor’s office.
Commissioners also approved changes to the pandemic leave policy for county employees, adding two new types of emergency leave made available under federal law.
The first type provides two weeks of paid leave to any employee. The second type gives employees an additional 12 weeks of paid time off under the Family Medical Leave Act.
Under the county’s policy, employees who work 12-hour shifts will be eligible for 84 hours of paid leave. Employees taking additional Family Medical Leave Act time will receive full pay.
Commissioners also designated essential personnel who will be permitted to travel to and from work under Holcomb’s order. They include the entire staff of the information technology, health, highway, building and maintenance departments.
All sheriff’s, dispatch center and emergency management staff were also deemed essential. Staff will be limited in the other departments during the order.
Montgomery County Sheriff Ryan Needham said officers continue patrolling the community.
“We are still open. Officers are still on-duty, jail staff are all still working, and we’re still here to provide safety for our citizens and community as a whole,” Needham said in a statement.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.