Eureka Springs distributes equipment to fight virus

Tuesday, July 14, 2020
Signs like this encouraging safety precautions during the COVID-19 pandemic are located in several spots downtown. The city of Eureka Springs purchased the signs using funds from the Blue & You Foundation for a Healthier Arkansas.
Samantha Jones / Carroll County News

By Samantha Jones

You can throw a rock in downtown Eureka Springs and hit a hand sanitizing station, and that’s exactly what city representatives want.

Sandy Martin, a representative of the Mayor’s Recovery Task Force, said the last week that city was almost done distributing several pieces of equipment to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. The city received a $44,188 grant from the Blue & You Foundation for a Healthier Arkansas in May to purchase the supplies, which include hand sanitizing stations, no-touch digital forehead thermometers, disposable face masks, face shields and signage.

Martin said hand sanitizing stations have been placed at public sites including City Hall, the Auditorium, Basin Park and Pendergast Corner. Several hand sanitizing stations have been donated to the parks and transit departments, she said. Martin said 14 of the hand sanitizing stations will be sponsored by Heart of Eureka, a group of downtown merchants.

“Heart of Eureka is purchasing several of them and they’re going to be putting them in public places as well,” Martin said.

Parks director Justin Huss said the hand sanitizing stations will be placed outside public restrooms and other public hot spots.

“Well, we have about 10 of them, so we’ll hit most of our restrooms, entry doors and the office door,” Huss said. “We love it. We’re glad to have everybody visit. We just want to provide a safe way to do it.”

Gina Rambo, interim director of the City Advertising and Promotion Commission, said the hand sanitizing stations make Eureka Springs a better place for visitors.

“A lot of people are still hesitant to travel. We want to let them know we’re taking all the precaution to make our visitors safe,” Rambo said. “We want to get the message out that we’re a safe place to visit.”

In addition to the hand sanitizing stations, Martin said, the grant helped the city provide frontline employees with thermometers. She still needs to distribute one more thermometer to a food truck in the historic loop, Martin said.

“We got about 240 thermometers and those have been distributed to all the restaurants, liquor stores, food stores, city departments and places like that,” Martin said. “We’ve covered food trucks and things like that.”

The city recently purchased face shields, Martin said, as well as some N95 masks for the frontline employees who work outdoors.

“They’re outside. They sweat. They get dirty, so we ordered some face shields,” Martin said. “It’s been a real good grant and we’ve got almost all of it distributed now, I’m proud to say. It’s taken us a while trying to get with people. It’s hit or miss with people being open and closed.”

What’s it like to provide frontline employees with supplies to keep them safe during the pandemic?

“It feels great. The other thing that is wonderful is everybody has been so appreciative that we’ve been able to provide those through the city and the grant,” Martin said. “It’s been a pleasure to distribute it, that’s for sure.”

Having hand sanitizing stations and other equipment readily available sends an important message to everyone who visits Eureka Springs, Martin said.

“We hope it says that we are trying to be as safe and protective of their health as well as our own health,” Martin said. “We really want them to act in kind and wear a mask and honor and respect what the businesses are asking them to do … because it’s for their safety as well.”

Martin continued, “Our goal is to protect our community. We can’t really get a good solid economic recovery accomplished if we don’t address the health crisis first. The mayor’s been really hot on that. It seems to be working.”

When she was distributing the supplies, Martin said, she was pleased to see so many frontline employees wearing face masks and practicing social distancing.

“It helped us check a bit to see how everybody is handling things,” Martin said. “We’re just real proud of the community. This is tough. We’re by no means through it or over it or even got a handle on it yet.”

Martin said nobody knows when the pandemic will be over. The local economy took a huge hit when everything closed down at the beginning of the pandemic, Martin said, and taking precaution is the best way to prevent another shutdown.

“It’s the only way we could possibly have opened up safely. We want our businesses to be open as much as they possibly can and this is the only way we can help them recover,” Martin said.

Eureka Springs is in a unique spot, Martin said, because it’s a small town that depends on tourism. The town is full of small businesses, Martin said.

“We have smaller restaurants. We have boutiques, smaller retailers that are on their own and for many of them, it’s their complete livelihood,” Martin said. “There aren’t many businesses that have the kind of reserves to get through this. They might have a couple of months of reserves, but they can’t go much past that.”

Martin said the city lost a couple of businesses during the first shutdown.

“But we’re holding onto more and we’ve also had some new businesses that have opened up, so it’s kind of been a mixed bag of how we’re doing with it,” Martin said. “For the most part, I think we are doing pretty well.”

The city is seeing different tourists from those who have visited in the past, Martin said.

“Our best guess is they are probably doing something outdoors either at the lake or trails or biking, and then then they’re coming into town later to find something to eat and do some shopping,” Martin said. “Some of the retailers have responded by staying open later. Some of them are even staying open till 10:30 p.m. or so.”

Martin said it’s “typical Eureka” to prioritize public health over money, and that’s why so many visitors feel comfortable coming to the city.

“It’s an extremely caring community. They care about each other. They know they have to open some way, and they’re doing it the right way,” Martin said. “They seem to like the stance the mayor has taken with no events, no festivals and no parades. It has made for a more relaxed atmosphere for people to walk and shop and eat. They’re spending more time downtown.”

Mayor Butch Berry said safety equipment is vital to getting the local economy back on track.

“We need all the money we can get, especially when we have this virus going on. The city has already cut its budget so much,” Berry said. “We can’t afford any extras. Having this grant helps us provide safety material for everyone.”

Berry encouraged everyone to wear a face mask and practice social distancing.

“It’s kind of like having a parachute and jumping out of an airplane. I think it’s always better to pull the ripcord and be safe,” Berry said. “It’s better to be safe than sorry. From what I understand, there’s just a lot of scientific data that says wearing a mask is going to be more protective to us when we wear them than when we don’t.”

His message to everyone, Berry said, is to stay safe.

“It’s important just to keep the economy from having to shut down again so we don’t have the spikes,” Berry said. “We can go on with our life and keep our economy going and enjoy doing what we do. If we have a little inconvenience of wearing a mask, I think that’s the least we can do.”

Martin agreed.

“That’s the number one priority. Protect yourself, then protect the visitors and just keep it up because it is going to be a while before it gets back to whatever the new normal is,” Martin said. “Just keep doing what you’re doing, because it’s helping tremendously.”

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