By Erick Johnson
Broadway was quiet on Tuesday. For over two minutes, a photographer stood in the middle of the street taking pictures without a single car driving by.
At the Save More Supermarket on Broadway, shelves once stocked with household items stood bare. Across town in the Miller neighborhood, downtown was empty as businesses remained closed.
One day before Governor Eric Holcomb’s stay-at-home order would take effect, Gary’s streets were already deserted, and its schools closed. Like many cities and towns across America, life has come to a halt, and the future looks uncertain as health officials try to contain a virus that continues to spread out of control with no end in sight.
The virus has disrupted thousands of lives in big and mid-sized cities, confining residents to homes and taking away active social lives that included frequent trips to restaurants, bars, theaters and events.
It’s a challenge and discomforting reality for many, but for Gary’s poor and Blacks residents, it’s a familiar lifestyle they have grown used to after years of struggling financially. Many have grown content with a simple lifestyle that’s affordable and accessible.
Hours after Holcomb’s announcement, Gary Mayor Jerome Prince warned residents that the city will enforce the order. He urged residents not to go to church, but reversed course the next day with a statement with four prominent Black pastors: Pastor Corey Jackson of New Shiloh Baptist Church and president of the Baptist Ministers’ Conference of Gary and Vicinity; Senior Pastor Dewan Bynum of Christian Valley Baptist Church; Pastor Dyke Lee of First Tabernacle Baptist Church; and Bishop Tavis Grant of Greater First Baptist Church. They called for religious services to be limited to no more than 10 people at a time.
“This is a war against a virus. It’s certainly not a war against our respected, well-held churches and religious facilities of the like. I want to make it clear all of our actions are in an effort to combat a virus,” said Mayor Prince.
He also reiterated his administration’s Protocol B, which he launched when the first positive diagnoses of COVID-19 first occurred in Lake County, Indiana.
The protocol closed all City of Gary facilities to public traffic, identified city workers who would be required to go into their jobs and those who could work from home and cancelled planned activities at all city rental facilities.
The protocol also called for residents to avoid in-person gatherings of more than 10 people—a requirement too many people chose to ignore over the weekend according to Mayor Prince.
The order has virtually shut down Gary. On Tuesday, a Crusader reporter drove through the city and found many retail businesses closed. A sign in front of a Kentucky Fried Chicken said the fast-food restaurant is delivering for free.
Across the street at the Save More Supermarket, business was slow, but many of the shelves that carried bread and disinfectants were empty. There were plenty of containers of bleach being sold for just $1.99 a gallon, but shoppers were being limited to the purchase of two and one small container of Clorox disinfectant wipes. Shoppers were also limited to purchasing just two eight-roll packs of toilet tissue.
At the Miller Market in the Miller neighborhood, their supply of bleach, sanitizers and disinfectants was gone. In the downtown’s main artery, Lake Street was nearly empty with closed retail shops and law offices.
Meanwhile, the number of unemployment claims in Indiana is soaring. In Lake County, there were 3,820 unemployment claims in the week ending March 21. The number is an 1,800 percent increase. This morning the Labor Department released its report that showed 3.2 million unemployment claims were filed last week in America.
In Allen County, a total of 3,561 initial claims were filed—compared to 115 for the same week in 2019. In Marion County, the seat of Indianapolis, there were 10,173 claims, which is a 3,300 percent change from 2019.
The U.S. Senate in Wednesday approved a $2.2 trillion economic stimulus package that includes $425 billion for businesses, $50 billion to airlines and $1,200 checks to every American who makes under $75,000. The average family of four will receive approximately $3,000 under the plan. The House is expected to vote on the bill quickly.
Worldwide, over 15,436 people have died from the virus, and more than 400,000 people have been infected. In Indiana, 17 people have died, and 645 have been infected with the virus.
Gary Police Chief Richard Ligon strongly advised residents to take the stay-at-home order seriously, indicating his department will work with Indiana State Police to enforce the order.
Mayor Prince also said members of his administration will find ways to ensure updates get to senior citizens living throughout the City of Gary.