CDC team arrives in Elkhart County to analyze COVID-19 spread

Jen Tobey works at her desk while serving in her role as director of the Elkhart County Emergency Management Agency.

GOSHEN — Elkhart County is the first county in the state to receive a CDC team specifically due to coronavirus, according to Jen Tobey, director of the Elkhart County Emergency Management Agency.

“We received confirmation from Dr. (Kristina) Box that … the state has leaned on the CDC with some questions and concerns and there’s been some CDC representatives from Atlanta that have come in for some other reasons but we are the first county that has actually received a CDC team in the state, specifically to COVID-19,” Tobey said. “Nobody else has gotten that.”

While the Indiana State Department of Health reported four new deaths Wednesday in Elkhart County, Tobey said there were nine new deaths.

“It doesn’t mean that nine people died yesterday and were reported today,” she explained, “it just means that nine people affiliated with an address within Elkhart County have passed and they were added up to be reported today.”

The fact that Elkhart County is the first in the state to get a CDC team sends a strong message to Tobey.

“For me, that speaks loudly that we still have a problem. We’re hoping that — people don’t like the term ‘new normal’ even though we are leaning toward that new normal — and the six-feet separation and the mandating of masks, it’s real,” she said. “There’s a reason behind it. This is just, for me, another piece of the pie to say that we still have issues. Because, now, the CDC is deploying a team from Atlanta and Puerto Rico to come here and help us flatten this curve. Because it’s not happening.”

Three CDC representatives are currently in Elkhart County. “The fourth one will get here tonight,” Tobey said of the officials, two of which are bilingual. “She’s coming in from Puerto Rico.

“We’ll have four on site total and then we’ll have an additional two that are working remotely,” Tobey said. “So we have a team of six. They are currently in the process of working on a two-page … letter of commitment that has to be approved by the CDC and then they can start their data diving.”

Tobey explained the team will look at old data presented from the state from contact tracing, including all the data the health department had initially then all the data that came from the state that couldn’t be followed through with that they’re hoping the local health department could follow through.

“So … the problem cases, like maybe where they tried to notify somebody and they didn’t call back, they turned it over to the locals to try to following through with that,” Tobey explained. “They’re going to take all the data and they’re going to break it down by where people live, where people work, their age, demographics, everything that you can imagine.”

The team members, who will be in Elkhart County through July 23, are not permitted to speak publicly.

“They’re not going to be doing any type of public speaking or public meetings or anything, they are literally here working with the health department and the incident command crunching numbers,” Tobey said, adding the team will be taking part in some public relations with Melanie Sizemore (a spokesperson for the Elkhart County Health Department) and Tobey.

“That’s just helping us looking at the messages we’re sending out and the educational tools we’re using and maybe sharing stuff they’ve learned because they do this all over the United States,” she said.

Tobey said she looked forward to learning from the CDC officials. “They are going to help a little bit with that public education piece and public relations piece to speak to everyone within the county, not one specific culture but to everyone.

“They’re going take this week and next week to really do the data diving and then they’re going to work on their findings and they’re going to present a report to us on the 23rd before they leave and we will share that information once we get it.”

Dr. Lydia Mertz, Elkhart County Health Officer, urged residents Tuesday to continue to wear masks in public, wash their hands and physically distance themselves in an effort to a “worsening situation” in the county.

“Information from other states and cities has shown us that opening up too fast, without widespread use of public health safeguards, results in sharp increases in the number of cases, and straining health care resources,’ the announcement states. ‘Hospitals in the hardest-hit areas of the United States are again experiencing full ICUs, and a lower number of beds for more ‘routine’ use, such as heart attacks, gall bladder removals, knee or hip replacements, cancer surgeries, etc. As more people are sickened by the coronavirus and require hospitalizations, the situation worsens.”

Mertz add she hopes residents will look out for others and wear a mask to avoid infecting someone else.

“I urge everyone to stay this course for now,” Mertz stated. “No matter what the weather is, what your traditional summers look like, or whom you are around, we all need protection from COVID-19.”

THE STATISTICS

Here are Wednesday’s numbers:

Statewide — 49,063 positive cases, up 455; 2,539 deaths, up 15; 535,857 tested, up 5,823; positivity rate, 9.2%.

Elkhart County — 3,402 positive cases, up 85; 55 deaths, four new; 24,697 tested, up 532; positivity rate, 13.8%.

LaGrange County — 477 positive cases, up two; nine deaths, zero new; 2,152 tested, up six; positivity rate, 22.2%.

Noble County — 485 positive cases, up two; 28 deaths, zero new; 4,491 tested, up 22; positivity rate, 10.8%

Kosciusko County — 562 positive cases, up seven; four deaths, zero new; 5,777 tested, up 90; positivity rate, 9.7%.

St. Joseph County — 2,001 positive cases, up 20; 69 deaths, one new; 28,140 tested, up 369; positivity rate, 7.1%.

Marshall County — 501 positive cases, eight new; six deaths, zero new; 4,656 tested, up 90; positivity rate, 10.8%.

To find testing locations around the state, visit www.coronavirus.in.gov and click on the COVID-19 testing information link.

CHANGES IN VISITOR RESTRICTIONS

Goshen Health adjusted visitor restrictions effective Wednesday.

One of the main changes, according to Goshen Health officials, is that some visitors are now permitted for non-COVID-19 patients in the hospital. Requirements include: all patients and visitors will be screened, wearing a mask is required at all facilities and visitors must be 18 years of age or older and healthy (and not in quarantine).

Non-COVID-19 patients

Visitors are limited for non-COVID-19 patients:

• Clergy: allowed to visit

• Inpatient: two visitors each day

• 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekends

• Proceed directly to patient room and exit promptly after visit to minimize time in other areas of the hospital

• Emergency room: one visitor during stay

• Outpatient surgery: one visitor during stay

• Outpatient services: one visitor if patient requires assistance

• The Birthplace: one support person for the entire stay, and if requested, one approved doula; in the instance of a minor OB patient (under 18 years of age), one parent or guardian and the father of the baby will be allowed visitation

• Goshen Center for Cancer Care: one pre-arranged visitor if approved by a physician

• Outpatient clinics: one visitor during appointment; two allowed for pediatric patients

COVID-19 patients

No visitors will be allowed for COVID-19 positive patients and those pending test results. Video or telephone communication may be utilized. Limited exceptions will be determined by the doctor and made for the following circumstances:

• The Birthplace: one support person for the entire stay, and if requested, one approved doula; in the instance of a minor OB patient (under 18 years of age), one parent or guardian and the father of the baby will be allowed visitation

• End of life: two pre-arranged visitors and clergy

In addition, no overnight visitors will be permitted in the hospital except for obstetrics and pediatrics. Family members and additional visitors should not gather inside the hospital, outside picnic tables may be utilized. Public restrooms are not available to guests outside of the visiting policy. Visitors may bring in food and are responsible for delivering to the patient

GRANT FUNDING

The Governor’s Workforce Cabinet announced temporary expansion plans for Indiana’s Next Level Jobs program in a press release Monday. The Indiana Department of Workforce Development and the Commission for Higher Education will administer $37 million in Rapid Recovery for a Better Future initiative funding to expand the two programs that make up Next Level Jobs, Workforce Ready Grant (WRG) and Employer Training Grant (ETG), which will have increased eligibility program offerings and funding caps through Dec. 30. The Northern Indiana Workforce Board (NIWB), which serves Economic Growth Region 2, has been allocated $3.15 million to advance regional workforce retraining within high-growth, high-wage occupations via the training fund programs.

Employers may apply for up to $100,000, capped at up to $10,000 per employee, via the ETG, which is an increase from the previous cap of $50,000 per employer. Individual learners may apply for up to $10,000 in scholarship resources available via the WTG, which is also an increase from a previous cap of $5,500. Eligible training programs are highlighted on the Next Level Jobs resource page, with eligibility for funding being focused on the following sectors: Advanced Manufacturing, Building & Construction, Health & Life Sciences, IT & Business Services, and Transportation & Logistics. Interested employers may contact SBERP Director of Education and Workforce Leighton Johnson via email at ljohnson@southbendelkhart.org for more information.

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