The Journal Gazette
Thursday, March 26, 2020 1:00 am


Selfless service

Effects already visible in local pandemic response

A pandemic is a world crisis demanding grassroots responses. The solutions may lie within the states, within communities, even within neighborhoods. Nations have adopted a variety of strategies to meet the coronavirus threat, and the message from Washington, D.C., continues to evolve. In the meantime, a multitude of small but important steps by ordinary Americans offer hope of mitigating the damage from the silent, invisible virus. Fortunately, there are plenty of people in communities such as ours who understand that and are working together to that end.

Consider the way local government tried to get ahead of impending danger. Days before state directives, Citizens Square was closed to the public and agencies such as the Fort Wayne Community Development Division and the Office of Housing and Neighborhood Services suspended routine work and collections until early May.

As city-county government actions set the tone, private businesses followed suit, not just doing the minimum by urging sick employees to stay out of the office but looking for ways to allow as many of their workers as possible to work from home. Many businesses simply decided to close to the public, as did the YMCA, the library, most of the arts community and a long honor roll of other organizations. (Staffs at many of these institutions are still working and helping patrons by phone or email.)

By the time Gov. Eric Holcomb issued his shelter-at-home announcement Monday, much of Fort Wayne was already in compliance.

Some national leaders have given lip service to the need for social distancing yet still cannot bring themselves to practice it at their news conferences.

But when the City Council met in special session last week to consider compensation for city employees unable to work because of illness or exposure to the virus, just one council member was in attendance, with the other members attending virtually; the few other city employees who needed to be present were seated a safe distance from one another.

At his Statehouse speech Monday, Holcomb and other officials toed spots marked with tape to keep themselves more than six feet apart. It was, the governor quipped, like that old Lynyrd Skynyrd song: “Gimme three steps.”

A mayoral briefing at Citizens Square Tuesday offered an even clearer lesson in distancing. Officials, including the sheriff, police chief, county commissioners, health commissioner and the mayor stood in a wide, open semicircle outside the mayor's office, and speakers carefully kept their distance from one another as they approached the microphone. They kept their messages brief and upbeat: pep talks from Mayor Tom Henry and County Commissioner Nelson Peters, reassurances from the fire and police chiefs that 400 firefighters and 500 police officers are on the job, reminders about mental health, even tips on how to score some free hand sanitizer — check the internet, Henry suggested.

“We've already become stronger,”Peters said. “And if we continue this remarkable collaboration, we'll emerge a much stronger Allen County.”

No one will know for sure how much such examples and the early efforts made to help slow the progress of the pandemic will ease the pressure on our medical personnel and facilities, or save lives. Or how much sooner this may allow Fort Wayne to return to normal. But those in this community who are staying informed and making the thousand little daily choices that may protect friends, co-workers and family members from becoming infected are not only doing their part — they could, together, make a big difference.

Sign up for our Opinion newsletter

Sent daily