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Covington Mayor: We Can't Let Our Guard Down

The following op-ed is written by Covington Mayor Joe Meyer

It's been over a month since I declared a State of Emergency to add muscle and speed to the City of Covington's response to the coronavirus pandemic, making this a good time to assess where we are, summarize what we've done, thank residents and businesses for their efforts, and ponder our next steps.

During its over 200 years, Covington has survived world wars, the Great Depression, pandemics, the Great Flood of 1937, and many natural disasters. The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic will rank with those challenges in time, given how it's destroyed lives, ravaged our local economy, and disrupted our sense of physical community.

No doubt, Covington will survive this too, but our success will depend on us realizing several things:

  • Each of us must continue to consciously engage in this fight. Much like the rationing of goods and scrap metal drives during World War II, this needs to be a community effort.
  • We will likely never be able to declare "total" victory.
  • We will need to be strategic in easing back to a reopening of society as we adjust to a so-called "new normal." 

With no vaccine, no cure, and an inadequate testing system, "social distancing" is currently our best (and some would say only) weapon in this fight.

That's why, at the direction of Gov. Andy Beshear and state health experts, Covington implemented difficult decisions like closing our bars, restaurant dining rooms and retail businesses; shutting down parks & recreation programming; and banning in-person meetings of our many boards and commissions.

I want to thank the people and businesses in Covington who have complied with these and other orders and directives. It's because of you and your sacrifice that Kentucky will come out of this with fewer cases of COVID-19 and fewer deaths.

But these decisions have come at a price.

One of Covington's strongest assets is its one-of-a-kind restaurants and bars, entrepreneurs, unique retailers, and creative spaces and programs. Many of them have suffered financial losses because of restrictions placed on their operations, and unfortunately some may not survive. Similarly, too many workers in Covington - like around the nation - have lost their jobs.

Mindful of that economic impact, the city has taken steps to protect jobs and help our businesses by:

  • Creating a $200,000 grant program to help businesses with rent or mortgage payments. (As of today, we've approved 17 grants, with more under way.)
  • Waiving fees commonly associated with development, construction, and renovation projects.
  • Giving businesses who file occupational license and net profits tax forms with the city an extra 90 days to both file the forms and make any payments.
  • Creating 15-minute "free-parking" zones in front of restaurants to make it more convenient to order carryout. We've also advertised those businesses relentlessly through the city's communications networks.
  • Refunding application fees for temporary alcohol licenses for events that were canceled and pro-rating the costs of 2:30 a.m. permits.
  • Sharing news about federal loan programs for small businesses and linking businesses with those who can provide guidance.
  • Working with developers and entrepreneurs to accelerate projects from the city's end, especially those that employ Covington contractors. 

Working through Read Ready Covington - the city's early childhood literacy initiative - we're helping parents help teachers continue at-home reading instruction in a fun way. Monday evening, we honored five children who placed at the top in the Mayor's Reading Challenge, during which some 47,000 "books" were read and almost 26,000 skill games completed. Almost 1,450 children have worked on their reading skills through the city's program during this time.

And the men and women in the city's Police, Fire, and Public Works Departments have continued their extraordinary high level of service, responding to calls for assistance from throughout the city and helping our citizens in need.

Meanwhile, we continue to search for more creative ways that City Hall can reasonably mitigate the negative impact of this coronavirus on our residents and the local economy.

We are also - outside of the COVID-19 response - working toward the future: The city continues moving to acquire the 23-acre IRS site downtown for a massive future development ... earned a second (in two years) upgrade in its credit rating from Moody's Investors Service, which will save taxpayers millions of dollars in future borrowing costs ... agreed to sell its garbage transfer station and surrounding property for $8 million to Rumpke Waste & Recycling in a deal that will pay off for Covington residents and businesses in many ways ... and successfully lobbied the state General Assembly and Gov. Beshear to give cities temporary but significant relief on skyrocketing public pension costs, protecting our public servants.

Like the entire Covington community, we look forward to moving past the pandemic, although we know we must be patient.

We intend to follow Gov. Beshear and health experts' guidance on reopening of the economy. Recently the governor shared his "10 rules to Reopening," which include things like the onsite temperature checks, use of personal protective equipment (PPE), and limitation of face-to-face meetings. This past Monday, he implemented Phase 1 of the reopening, with the resumption of non-urgent outpatient health-care services like dentistry and chiropractic visits.

Locally, we saw the Covington Farmers Market enjoy a record day last Saturday as it resumed its open-air setup while selling locally grown and produced food products, albeit with intensive safety protocols and a very different environment from what we're accustomed to.

The reopening will not be a return to "normal." We cannot let down our guard. It must be a collaborative effort in which we all do our part by following safety and health guidelines, knowing that our choices affect the health and very life of those around us. And we must continue to be patient while we await the development of a vaccine or other measures to protect the public.

Until then, stay healthy and stay safe.