Masks handed out

Goshen Police Chief Jose Miller hands masks Monday to Darlene Wolski, of Goshen, outside City Hall, where officials set up a tent to pass out face masks donated by Sew Loved, Inc., an organization that donated 2,500 of the sewn masks.

Elkhart County leaders are asking business leaders to step up their efforts to combat the spread of COVID-19 before the economy is shut down again.

In a letter to the Elkhart County business community, the county’s three mayors, Jeremy Stutsman (Goshen), Rod Roberson (Elkhart) and Phil Jenkins (Nappanee); county commissioners Frank Lucchese, Suzie Weirich and Mike Yoder; and the presidents of the Chambers of Commerce and Economic Development Corporation Nick Kieffer, Levon Johnson, Jeff Kitson and Chris Stager, implored businesses to step up control efforts.

“We need to not allow anyone outside Elkhart County to control our ability to manage this pandemic,” the letter reads. “We will work with each and every one of you to support your efforts. We just ask that you stand beside us as well. We are all in this together.”

The letter, which can be read in full online, cites the increasing number of people who are becoming infected with the novel coronavirus as the reason business leaders need to continue working together to slow the spread.

“We expected a peak in mid-May in northern Indiana, but numbers in the past week in particular are troubling,” the letter reads. “As of June 1, Elkhart County had a total of 1,322 positive cases from 9,849 tested, and 28 people have died from the coronavirus.”

The letter states Indiana is decreasing the percentage of new positive cases in comparison to the number of tests given. “The temporary shut down and actions of people as we open up seem to have been successful statewide. Our county tells a different story. In the past week, Elkhart County received national attention when it became the 10th most likely in the entire country to have the next COVID-19 outbreak, based on data collected by the New York Times. This has since changed and we are no longer on the high end of the list, but only because other counties are doing worse.

“As of (Monday), we expect to see our total number of cases double every 12.5 days. Our county is testing a significant number more people than we have in the past which means our total number of positive cases will rise. The problem is our percentage of positive tests to total tests given is rising dramatically. This shows that we have a spread issue. The first couple of months we saw a daily positive test percentage of 4% to 9%. Since the economy has reopened, we have seen that jump to 16%, and the last week the percentages of positive tests rose to 20% to 25%. By comparison, Indiana dropped from 18% to the current 7.5% daily positives.

“If you look at Indiana’s data of positive cases by age, it is clear people ages 20 to 60 are the ones spreading the virus. This is us and this is our work force. As we have returned to work, the number of people who are getting sick is growing. Since we appeared on the national list, state and federal agencies have started looking closer at Elkhart County and we are at risk of them taking action to shut us down again. The CDC, OSHA, State Board of Health, or the Governor could order Elkhart County to again stay home entirely if we don’t act now to slow the spread again. The best solution for all of us is to do this voluntarily rather than be told to shut down. We cannot afford to shut down again if we can avoid it, but we can afford to take the time to reinforce our efforts and precautions. Companies with outbreaks have suffered work shut-downs, morale issues and community embarrassment.”

The letter states people should continue to social distance, wear masks and wash their hands, saying these practices are “just as essential now as they have been over the past two months. If we become complacent and relax our personal or workplace protocols and behaviors, we could see the disease spread in even more deadly ways.

“These are not fun times, but we can take steps to slow the spread of the virus and keep our community safer. We need to work together, possibly slow output, and both implement and enforce safe practices. We are now seeing record volumes of COVID-19 patients in our Urgent Care facilities and our hospitals have more patients than ever due to COVID-19.

“We are a team here in Elkhart County. We all rely on the other. In the time of a pandemic, the actions of a few can have a large effect on all of us, our health and our economy.”

Also issuing a statement to residents Monday was Elkhart County Health Officer Dr. Lydia Mertz.

“As many of you know, Elkhart County is currently seeing an increase in the number of positive test results for COVID-19. Although some of that is because of the rise in the number of tests we have been able to do, that is not my only concern. As the state has opened up, the increased activities at work and other settings have allowed for the spread of the virus. We need to sustain significant changes in how we go about our everyday lives for the foreseeable future.

“To keep businesses and activities open, and keep ourselves healthy, we have to maintain the safety features that lead to success. These are:

1. Wash your hands frequently during the day for 20 seconds with soap and water. If this is not available, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

2. I strongly encourage everyone who can to use a cloth face covering when you are out in a public area. Even if you are outside, if you are close to others, use a cloth mask. Many stores and businesses are requesting or requiring the use of these masks to protect their workers and customers, and we endorse these actions.

3. Keep distancing! Keep 6 feet between yourself and those around you as much as possible. Even when you are outside, you need to distance to prevent the spread of the virus.

4. Stay home if you are sick! The virus is most likely to spread when a person is just starting to feel ill. Don’t wait to see if you get better or worse — just stay home and keep away from others.

5. Clean frequently touched surfaces often.

“We know the virus continues to circulate in our community, and most of us are susceptible to the infection. Please commit yourself to these public health habits that are necessary for a safe recovery.”

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