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Mayor Merrill calls on community to slow the spread of COVID-19

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Mayr Jerry Merrill
Mayor Merrill used Facebook Live to call attention to active case rate in Rexburg
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REXBURG, IDAHO (KIFI/KIDK) - Eastern Idaho Public Health moved Madison County into the High Risk level of the COVID-19 Regional Response Plan during an EIPH board meeting on Wednesday.

During the meeting, board members commended the mayor of Rexburg for calling on his community to follow the preventative measures put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19.

In Rexburg, Mayor Jerry Merrill says the city is taking a team approach in winning against COVID-19. He says staying home when you’re sick, washing your hands frequently, not touching your face, social distancing, and wearing masks in the appropriate situations are all plays the entire team needs to make in order for Rexburg to lower their active case rates. He says in the match against COVID-19, the scoreboard needs to lower in Rexburg for them to be deemed victorious over the virus.

“I’ve been doing a nightly, just a little video post that helps people to know what our score is basically, where we’re at with our numbers,” Mayor Merrill said.

The city also posts an active case number at a busy intersection at the end of Main Street in Rexburg so the city can see the progress they are making. In the last two days, the active cases have gone down by 30.

Mayor Merrill says Rexburg has seen a spike in cases, partly due to Labor Day tourists, students going back to school, and 20,000 college students coming back to campus. That high number of people being in close proximity to one another for long periods of time easily transmits the coronavirus.

“I was watching football over the weekend last weekend and there was a team that was behind and they went into their two-minute drill. They hurry up the offense and they try to move the ball faster and get something done so they can win the game,” Mayor Merrill said. “And it occurred to me, that’s what we need, a two-minute drill here in Rexburg.”

The Rexburg City Council approved a two-minute drill on Wednesday night during their meeting to lower the number of active COVID-19 cases.

Team Rexburg “2 Minute Drill” strategy for Rexburg:

  1. Focus on businesses
    • Send out letter asking them to cooperate and explaining why
    • Send out a “mask required” sign and ask them to post it
    • Watch for cooperation and start contacting personally those who don’t post
  2. Park signage and gathering permits
    • Signs ask people to observe health department guidelines
    • Gathering permits required for groups of 25 or more...gatherings will be very limited if approved at all for the foreseeable future. We will also do what we can to discourage large gatherings in private venues
  3. Empower Police Department to enforce EIPH guidelines of social distancing and wearing face covering when social distancing is not easily done
  4.  Install a new digital sign at the end of Main Street for better messaging
  5.  The City has purchased 17,000 masks which will be made available to our small businesses for their customers *certain restrictions will apply
  6. Meetings with Community Partners to coordinate messaging and enforcement of guidelines
  7. More education and information to the public to help them understand the situation and risk, i.e. hospitalization info, etc.
  8. Cancelled opening of Kidsburg (Children’s indoor playplace) until further determination
  9. Managing other city recreation activities for social distancing and face covering
  10. Developing positive reinforcement plan to reward those who cooperate in our effort

They are asking all businesses to get off the benches and join the team of Rexburg in battling the pandemic.

The mayor would like businesses to display signs in their windows requiring locals to mask up before entering the establishment. The mayor says people will do what is asked of them, sometimes they just need to be reminded, and he hopes these signs will serve as that reminder to help slow the spread of the virus.

“If I’m wearing a mask, it’s not so much to protect me as it is to keep me from spreading it to someone else. When you see someone wearing a mask, you need to be grateful for them because they’re trying to protect you from getting it by them not spreading it,” Mayor Merrill said.

He says mask wearing is just one component of the team effort but it helps in many ways, such as serving as a reminder not to touch our faces if we have been handling items in a store.

“People have tried to make the mask thing a political thing, it’s not really a liberal/conservative thing and that’s really not what this is all about,” Mayor Merrill said. “It’s about taking care of each other and caring for your neighbor. And that’s what we want people to realize is, by wearing the mask in appropriate places, you’re preventing that spread from going out to others and that’s really what it’s all about, is trying to prevent the spread and get those numbers going back down to a manageable level.”

“The reason we’re doing this is because we want to keep our businesses open, we want to keep our kids in school. We want to keep the university students here because that’s crucial for our business community...we hope everybody will catch that vision and jump on board with us to do the things they need to do, including wearing a mask,” Mayor Merrill said.

Nathan Maccall is a full-time student at BYU-Idaho. He says he was hosting country dances with his friends, unofficially and not sponsored by BYU-Idaho. They had to stop hosting them when the pandemic began.

Maccall says Madison County moving into the high risk level of the COVID-19 response plan doesn’t affect him very much but he is worried about his college having to close down because of this new categorization.

“I hope that we’re able to cut down on cases and everything,” Maccall said. “Be smart, be safe, and that we’ll be able to continue to improve and not have to shut more things down, keep things open, and keep moving in a better direction.”

Mayor Merrill says he thinks his community is getting better about wearing their masks whereas they weren’t wearing them as frequently at first. He thinks that is because people may be starting to recognize the seriousness of COVID-19 and that it is not going away anytime soon unless we do our part to keep it from spreading within our communities.

“That’s why a lot of people don’t see it as that important, they say, well there’s a 99% recovery rate. And the recovery rate is very high. I mean, it’s not quite that high for certain age groups and different people but we need to be concerned about everybody and not just the healthy people,” Mayor Merrill said.

He says one of the main reasons we need to do our part now is because of the increased hospitalizations within our area. He hopes people realize that as the cases continue to rise so do the hospitalizations. He says inevitably, there are also more deaths.

“Our hospitals are getting fuller in the whole region and the hospital administrators are more concerned that they might get overrun if we have a lot more people getting sick,” Mayor Merrill said.

He says the hospitals need the available bed space for the upcoming flu season and all of the other everyday illnesses. He hopes by lowering the active case rate in Madison County, hospitals can go back to operating under full capacity to preserve bed space for other non-COVID patients.

“If the beds are full of COVID patients, that really puts a stress on our healthcare system,” Mayor Merrill said. “Our EMTs have been transporting more COVID patients back and forth to different hospitals and our fire chief who runs that part of our Emergency Services has been quite concerned because they’re had more COVID patients than ever recently.”

The mayor says he is not trying to scare people or cause a panic, he is trying to spread awareness because some people may not know of the situation within our hospitals.

The mayor says it is not true that hospitals make more money to classify their patients as having COVID-19.

“A lot of people think they’re counting them wrong or they’re counting everything as COVID. The hospitals really don’t have incentive to do that,” Mayor Merrill said. “In fact, if they have COVID patients, they’re actually making less money than if they have a surgery patient or something. So, it actually hurts our hospitals to have their beds filled with COVID patients. Plus, it costs more because they have to take more precautions, more personal protective equipment and things like that. So it really costs them more to service a COVID patient, they don’t make as much as they would to have that bed utilized by a surgical patient.”

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Chelsea Briar

Chelsea is a reporter and producer for Local News 8 and KIDK Eyewitness News 3.


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