In response to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, Bexley has organized a task force, launched a volunteer network and made a number of changes to staff roles.

"We're having daily, weekly touch bases to figure out how things need to be moving and assess how any kind of state or federal guidelines are impacting us," Mayor Ben Kessler said of the city's COVID-19 task force. "Our Central Ohio Mayors and Managers Association has been having weekly meetings to share information."

Kessler announced March 15 one of the confirmed coronavirus cases in Ohio was a Bexley resident. He issued executive orders with guidelines to prevent the spread of the virus and assembled a task force that includes city and public health officials and representatives of local businesses and organizations.

Kessler said Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton, a Bexley resident, offered advice on drafting his executive orders.

"I didn't want to be overly permissive or overly restrictive," he said.

As of April 24, Bexley had 18 confirmed coronavirus cases and one coronavirus-related death. Guidelines the city issued -- such as encouraging residents to obey statewide stay-at-home orders, conducting daily temperature checks for coronavirus symptoms and wearing face coverings when in public -- have helped slow the spread, Kessler said.

"We've seen a discernible slowdown in the increases that have been occurring," he said. "We're such a small sample set, but it's encouraging that we're not seeing a strong growth rate."

Kessler said the city has sought to strike a balance between enforcing safety measures and continuing to provide services.

His executive orders stipulate Bexley City Hall, 2242 E. Main St., will be open during normal business hours of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays and 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Fridays. However, doors will be locked, and people should call 614-559-4200 or send email to city staff members. Those email addresses are available on the city's website, bexley.org.

Residents are encouraged to participate in Bexley City Council and other public meetings virtually, but the city has provided methods for residents to offer feedback in person and online, Kessler said.

"There's usually me or somebody present (at City Hall) running the meeting, so if someone came in the lobby, they could ask a question" with a microphone stationed in the lobby during public meetings, he said.

"I think we will probably continue to encourage virtual participation until public gatherings are deemed to be safe," he said.

Council members voted 7-0 on March 24 to approve Ordinance 22-20, enabling the city administration "to grant, on a temporary basis, modified and/or paid time off which, in the mayor's judgment are necessary to enable employees to provide essential services and preventative measures relating to the COVID-19 pandemic."

Kessler said the ordinance particularly applies to Bexley's service department, which maintains all the city's infrastructure, including sanitary and storm sewers, water distribution, traffic signals, trash and recycling pickup, and streets and alleys. The ordinance enables service department employees to work in two teams, with workers taking time off on alternating weeks.

Recreation and parks department workers also have taken on different roles due the coronavirus, Kessler said.

"Preschool teachers have been helping to create an online curriculum for kids," he said. "We opened that up to the community. We have a free preschool program right now."

The staffers who work in the Before and After Care program for schoolchildren have been given part-time hours, Kessler said.

"Those employees often work in the summer camp and we have been monitoring what will happen with summer camp and the pool," he said. "We think the need for activities for kids over the summer is going to be more important than ever, even if it looks different."

Recreation director Michael Price said he and his staff are proceeding with plans for the Bexley Community Pool to open May 23 as scheduled but are keeping options open if plans must change.

"From a departmental standpoint, everything's sort of up in the air," Price said. "We're taking two-week pictures because we don't know what the long-term, final plan is. We're taking it day by day, week by week."

The city and its nonprofit Community Improvement Corp. have been working with the Bexley Area Chamber of Commerce to help local small businesses stay afloat, Kessler said. The CIC has provided rent relief to Bexley Square Shopping Center tenants, and the chamber has surveyed businesses' needs and helped them access federal government loans, he said.

"It's important that we're doing everything we can as a government to ensure that businesses are able to remain viable," he said.

The city also has collected more than 5,500 face coverings from a resident who has a connection to a supplier and has donated them to frontline workers who live in Bexley and to residents who are considered to be high risk, he said.

The city's volunteer network has had 215 people sign up to assist residents who either have been diagnosed with coronavirus or have chosen to self-quarantine to prevent it, as well as those who are physically unable or don't have the resources to do yard maintenance, grocery shopping and other household tasks, Kessler said.

"A lot of this is how are we focusing on building community through this and staying connected in a tough time?" he said. "It's been great to see neighborhoods grow together, even among the restrictions."

For updates about how the city is responding to the pandemic and to volunteer or receive assistance, go to bexley.org/coronavirus.

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