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Monroe County closes parks, city eliminates bus fare as coronavirus cases rise



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As cases of COVID-19 continue to pop up in Indiana and people are being ordered to stay indoors, city officials said people will have to prepare for the situation to get worse before it gets better. 

As of Monday, Monroe County has three confirmed cases of the coronavirus, according to the Indiana State Department of Health. To prepare for more cases, the county closed parks and the city closed some government buildings and started fare-free busing.

“We’re in a serious, deadly health crisis,” Mayor John Hamilton said. 

Bloomington officials, including Hamilton, IU Health Bloomington president Brian Shockney and IU spokesperson Chuck Carney spoke during a videoconference Monday to update each other and the public on how different city entities are handling the governor’s new stay-at-home order and the spread of the coronavirus. 

Each city official spoke briefly about updates in their workplaces. 

Shockney said IU Health Bloomington Hospital is preparing for more testing and cases of the coronavirus. He said the hospital has testing kits and they will continue to have kits shipped in. 

Shockney said there have been people coming into the hospital with symptoms other than those seen with the coronavirus. He said the hospital has been training its staff to recognize those who are asymptomatic and those who might just have allergies or a cold. The health care workers treating patients are tested frequently for the virus. 

All patients will have the option to waive their monthly bills for April and pay them later. The hospital has beds and rooms specifically for patients who have tested positive for the coronavirus or those who seem symptomatic. There are two full units for patients, and the number of beds in each unit depends on the size of families infected. 

A Monroe County official read statements from Allison Moore, the Monroe County Emergency Management director. Moore was unable to speak during the videoconference due to technical difficulties. Moore said there is currently a blood shortage in Monroe County hospitals and that there will be a county blood drive in the near future. She said the stations will be set up to ensure people are distanced from each other to help avoid the spread of the coronavirus. 

Hamilton said the city is working hard to ease people’s worries during the pandemic. Starting Tuesday, the Bloomington Transit system will be fare-free. Bus drivers will ask people to only enter and exit through the rear door to limit the drivers' contact with people, Hamilton said. 

He said groups like Middle Way House and IU Foundation are going to work together to combat issues such as housing insecurity, food insecurity and child care. 

City Hall is closed for two weeks to limit the spread of the virus, the city announced in a press release Tuesday. City parks and trails are still open 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. Playgrounds, workout stations and indoor parks facilities including Twin Lakes Recreation Center, the Allison-Jukebox Center and the Banneker Center are closed to the public.

Hamilton said in the Monday meeting downtown parking at meters is free for the first two hours. He said he isn’t sure what else will change. 

Julie Thomas, the president of the Monroe County Board of Commissioners, said county parks are closed, but people can still use the trails. She advised practicing social distancing if people decide to use the trails. 

Thomas said there is a survey on the county’s website where small businesses in Monroe County outside Bloomington can request funding if their business has been affected by COVID-19. 

CORRECTION: A previous headline for this story incorrectly stated which parks are closed. The IDS regrets this error.

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