Mayor Encourages Community to Stay Together While Physically Apart
Delivering her first State of the Town Address virtually on Monday night, Hillsborough Mayor Jenn Weaver focused on the coronavirus pandemic and how the community can surmount continued hardship by staying together.
“Fear is an entirely rational and reasonable reaction to the situation that we are in,” the mayor said during the address that was broadcast live March 23 on the town’s @HillsboroughGov Facebook page. “The trick is to take note of that fear, acknowledge it, but not let it consume our whole state of being. We are surrounded by good people. Let’s take care of ourselves and each other — from at least 6 feet away.”
Seated at her normal spot in the Hillsborough Town Hall Annex’s board meeting room, Weaver started the address by reassuring the community that essential town services are continuing and that she is confident in the ability of the town’s leadership and staff to get through the pandemic and its resulting challenges.
She reminded viewers that the town has a solvent water and sewer utility, streets in good condition, and an abundance of public spaces for respite now due to investments made in past years. Town leaders will make the decisions needed to prioritize the safety of every community member, but they also realize actions to slow the spread of the virus come at great cost, she said.
“The result is that our many local businesses are struggling to stay afloat and people are losing their jobs,” Weaver said. “To all those local businesses, I want you to know that we see you and we are committed to working with our community partners to connect you with the assistance that you need as it becomes available.”
Recalling past training in wilderness leadership, Weaver advocated approaching the coronavirus pandemic with an expedition mindset to help lower the risks from an already risky situation. She suggested the community focus on three elements of expedition mentality:
- Reduce your exposure to risk because what you are doing is already inherently risky — Stay home as much as possible, the mayor advised, because the coronavirus is in community spread and we increase risks each time we leave our homes. When leaving home to get groceries or to take a walk, stay physically distant from others and wash your hands when you return home.
- Make decisions that align your own behavior with what is best for the health and safety of the group, not just your personal interests — The mayor noted it is known now that people can be infected and infecting others for many days without showing symptoms. “So we each are holding each other’s health — and possibly lives — in our own hands,” she said. “When you’re in a group setting out in the wilderness, you shouldn’t take foolish physical risks because your personal injury turns into a liability for the group. In our coronavirus situation we must each be extraordinarily careful in avoiding contagion not just to protect ourselves but to protect everyone else around us in our community.”
- Stay focused, and remain flexible — The mayor noted the fluid nature of the pandemic brings the unexpected, to which so many people already have had to adapt in the last weeks. “We cannot necessarily predict when changes may come,” she said, “but we know there will be change and we can be mentally prepared that change is coming and be ready to adapt.”
“Above all, our community must stick together,” Weaver said, recalling the instructions that a beloved guide in rock climbing and wilderness leadership gave: No. 1, stay together. No. 2, stay together. No. 3, stay together. “If we do, all of our hardships will be less.”
Recognizing a desire from the community for ways to help, the mayor strongly encouraged these actions:
- Stay home as much as possible. Getting outside and walking for mental health are important, but stay 6 feet away from others and limit other outings to necessity only.
- Support local businesses from afar, including ordering takeout food, buying from farmers, and buying gift cards.
- Support artists and musicians through the Orange County Arts Support Fund.
- Wash your hands the right way for a full 20 seconds with soap every time you enter your house, eat, use the restroom or enter a building. Make sure kids know how to wash their hands too.
- Don’t gather in groups of more than 10. If gathering with fewer than 10, still practice social distancing. These are best practices despite an executive order from the governor earlier in the day banning mass gatherings of more than 50 people. “The fewer of us gathered at one time, the more safe our entire community will be,” Weaver said.
- Talk with your kids about racism and xenophobia. “They might be hearing that this virus is something that can be blamed on a particular nation or ethnic group,” the mayor said. “They might be hearing this on the news. They might be hearing this from a friend as they’re chatting online. Please take the time to talk about the harm that this causes with your children.”
- Stay connected to updates from the Orange County Health Department. See the county’s coronavirus webpage, where you also can subscribe to a semiweekly COVID-19 newsletter. Subscribe to daily text updates by texting to 888777 and putting OCNCHEALTH in the message for English or OCNCSALUD for Spanish. For questions, send an email to email@example.com or call the call center at 919-245-6111, which is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday and available in Spanish and other languages.
“The coronavirus is very contagious, it is not contained, and it continues to spread,” Weaver said. “Our challenge now is to slow its spread so that critical health services do not get overwhelmed.
She offered these additional tips for businesses:
- Implement daily physical distancing practices, especially in businesses with a large amount of foot traffic. “The town cannot force this,” Weaver said, “so we are counting on you to do it yourselves.”
- If you own a small business and are worried and need help, contact Hillsborough Economic Development Planner Shannan Campbell by email or phone at 919-296-9477 or Hillsborough/Orange County Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Officer Kim Tesoro at firstname.lastname@example.org or 919-732-8156.
The mayor encouraged the community to take the time to fill out the census, noting that invitations to complete the population survey have arrived in the mail and that the form took about 10 minutes for her family to complete online.
She also answered questions submitted by the community, including questions about access to food during the pandemic. The mayor noted that the county’s call center handles all information related to the coronavirus. Individuals who cannot access food regardless of whether they are food insecure, do not have transportation, are a member of an at-risk group, or are on quarantine can call the hotline at 919-245-6111 for help. Part of the county’s role is providing social services, she noted.
In addition, while schools are closed, Orange County Schools is leading an effort with community partners to continue to provide food to children who receive free and reduced lunch at school. Orange Congregations in Mission also has a food pantry and continues to accept donations.
Weaver encouraged community members to also help each other in their individual areas by organizing a system of checking up on each other and identifying needs. She advised starting a list of people living nearby with phone numbers, ages, and underlying health conditions.
“Despite the tremendous challenges that we are currently facing, the state of our community is strong,” Weaver said in concluding the address. “We’re a well-run town, full of excellent people in a beautiful setting. So let’s keep our expedition mindset. And even when we are physically apart, stay together, stay together, stay together.”