Ellettsville town council would like better heads-up from county health officials on next COVID-19 quarantine decision

On May 1, Monroe County’s health department issued an order extending COVID-19 countermeasures that keep restrictions on businesses and gatherings in place for another two weeks, through May 15.

cropped Ellettsvile town council Screen Shot 2020-05-11 at 6.40.59 PM
Screen grab from the May 11, 2020 meeting of the Ellettsville town council meeting.

When a decision is made on extending or rescinding that order—which currently ends at midnight this Friday—Ellettsville town councilmembers are hoping for better communication than they got about the May 1 announcement.

The health department’s May 1 announcement came after Indiana’s governor, Eric Holcomb, had issued his own order outlining a phased-in “Back on Track” program earlier that day.

That means for about a week now Monroe County has been under tighter restrictions than most of the rest of the state. Those tighter restrictions will continue at least through Friday at the end of this week.

The county health department’s order applies to the whole county, including the city of Bloomington and the town of Ellettsville.

The wording of the document included Bloomington and Ellettsville.  According to the order, the health department’s decision was made after “consultation with the Mayor of the City of Bloomington, the Monroe County Board of Commissioners, and representatives of the Town of Ellettsville,”

But Ellettsville town councilmembers found out about the May 1 decision the same way that many of their constituents did—by reading about it in the newspaper. At Monday’s town council meeting, councilmember Scott Oldham said, “We were kind of left on the outside.”

That meant they were not able to answer questions they got from their constituents, town council president Dan Swafford said on Monday.

Swafford said he thought was a little confusion caused by the wording of the order, as far as Ellettsville just going along with everything. “We were just at the meeting,” he said.

The next decision by the county health department on a possible extension or lifting of the current order is expected probably towards the end of this week. When that decision is made, Ellettsville town councilmembers would like to be in a better position than they were back on May 1 to answer questions from their constituents .

As Oldham put it: “It’s not that I didn’t support what the health department did the last time. But I think…we need to be kept informed as to why another body is going to do something… Because our constituents have questions that, quite frankly, we could not answer.”

Next time around, Oldham said, he would appreciate being informed as a town councilmember on the numbers that the health department is using to make the decision.

Councilmembers Pamela Samples and William Ellis drew out the fact that the town council can’t override the county health department’s decision. At Monday’s meeting, the council’s legal counsel, Darla Brown, confirmed that the governor’s May 1 order allows a local health authority like Monroe County’s health department to enforce isolation and quarantine orders.

Swafford said he would try to be more vigilant if there’s another meeting this week of officials from various county jurisdictions.

At Monday’s meeting, the Ellettsville town council did not vote on anything related to a health department order, or steps they’d be taking to re-open the town, after the next decision gets made by the county health department.

Oldham urged a hands-off approach by the council, deferring to department heads and the town manager. “I think they know better than we do, as to what needs to open and in what order. This is one of the times where I think the council can probably help best by staying out of it.”

Getting a general consensus among other councilmembers at Monday’s meeting was a proposal from Oldham that town workers should get some paid time off in appreciation for their work during the stay-at-home order. So a resolution is going to be drafted to provide 48 hours of paid time off as a “COVID-19 bonus” for some town workers.

Getting the full 48 hours would be workers who’ve been coming in every day to keep things running—firefighters, police, streets and utilities workers, for example. Other workers would get a prorated amount of PTO based on the amount of time they’d worked during the COVID-19 shutdown, Oldham said.

Once it’s drafted, the resolution will get a formal vote at a future meeting.