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Ormond Beach Observer Thursday, Apr. 9, 2020 4 months ago

'Adjustments to win the battle': A Q+A with Ormond Beach's mayor on COVID-19

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Mayor Bill Partington expresses frustration over available data and discusses public service during a pandemic.
by: Jarleene Almenas Associate Editor

Since the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic began to be felt in Ormond Beach, city staff have worked to keep services running as normally as possible.

Mayor Bill Partington said that has been challenging. Twice the number of employees are working from home, making the information technology department create new servers in a matter of days. He said the city's public information officer has been hard at work getting information out, and, that city's department heads and city manager have worked well to coordinate it all through this emergency situation. 

"It’s unlike anything we’ve ever faced before, and seeing them plan for, implement and adapt all of their responses, it’s really been impressive," he said.

Partington added that he knows it's difficult to practice social distance and refrain from gathering, but that people should be patient and kind with each other.

"It’s adjustments that we’re all having to make to win the battle," he said.

The Ormond Beach Observer recently spoke with the mayor about recent orders regarding COVID-19, and this is what he had to say:

Q: What has it been like to serve as mayor during this pandemic?

A: It’s been a completely new and unique experience unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in all my years of public service. When I say that, there’s been some positive things. Actually, a lot of positive things, and then just a few negative situations. For the most part, it’s been challenging but also rewarding.

Q: What are some of the positive things that you’ve seen in the community?

A: I think the things that I have been most impressed with are the ways that our first responders, health care workers, and essential workers — from grocery store employees to garbage men and all the other professions — have risen to the occasion to continue keeping our city running as normally as possible when we’re all on a statewide stay-at-home order. It’s been impressive to see the response of our businesses stepping up to change their business model and manufacturing patterns to create items to help with the pandemic.

On the individual level, seeing residents put together food drives and making masks in their homes at their sewing machines and things like that; It’s heartening to see that and it makes you proud as a mayor of a city to see so many people from different walks of life and aspects of the community pitching in to help get through it.

Q: The Florida Department of Health recently began releasing COVID-19 data by zip code. Ormond Beach’s 32174 has the highest number of cases, at 25. What are your thoughts on that?

A: The data up to this point has largely been useless because so few people have been tested. So I’m frustrated that we haven’t been able to get more people tested sooner, and I think the data is not giving us a full picture of exactly what’s going on. When you look at cities of certain sizes, Ormond Beach has 42,800 people, and so it’s unlikely that we would have more cases than say Daytona or Port Orange with 65,000-70,000, or more cases than Deltona, with 90,000 people. It doesn’t seem like the data is accurate. That’s frustrating, but we can only rely on what the Florida Department of Health provides us.

Q: As allowed by the governor’s orders, residents are allowed to exercise outside. The bridge is a popular spot, but the sidewalks are narrow. Is the city considering any further social distancing measures to increase the safety of its residents?

My understanding is we’ve put up signs on all four corners reminding people to keep their social distance. I’m very proud of our residents for voluntarily complying with that, but there’s been some ideas floated that just really don’t work and almost would cause more confusion than leaving it the way it is. I think right now we’re relying on our residents to keep that social distance or choose other places where they can walk or exercise and keep the social distance in a better way.

Q: Volusia County closed its beaches last week for a day before relaxing the prohibitions. If the city had control of its beaches, would it have been handled differently?

I understand why the county did what they did — they have to deal with a huge crowd from Orlando and potentially a huge crowd from Ocala coming over and using our beaches as their only escape when everything else has been shut down and there’s nothing else to do. The county felt like they had to send a really strong message that the beaches were absolutely closed.

Then, they were willing to pull it back a little and be compliant with the governor’s order, which some would argue was controlling. I think if we controlled the beaches, we would have said that the beaches were closed to outside residents, and that if you had a driver’s license with an Ormond Beach address, you could use the beach within the guidelines outlined by the governor.

Q: As mayor, what do you think is the most important thing people should keep in mind right now?

Following the guidelines works, and we are living in a time, 2020, unlike the Spanish Flu in 1918 where instead of millions of people dying, thanks to social media, thanks to great reporting, lots of information being out there and available, we can save a lot of lives and have a much better overall result than we would have had otherwise.

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