On Wednesday, the Indiana State Department of Health moved Elkhart, LaGrange and Kosciusko counties from a positivity metric of yellow, which is a low- to medium-spread designation, to orange, which is for medium to high.
In Wednesday’s update from Gov. Eric Holcomb and ISDH Chief Medical Officer Dr. Lindsay Weaver, they announced guidelines for the color codes. For orange, ISDH said they will convene local officials to:
• Consider restrictions on the size of gatherings and use of common areas in the workplace.
• Discuss local monitoring of social distancing at all events and venues.
• Begin targeted testing, quarantine and isolation.
• Consider attendance restrictions on K-12 extracurricular activities and sports events.
No advisories were issued from the Elkhart County Health Department concerning the level increase Wednesday, but officials did say there might be one later this week.
Three weeks ago, Holcomb and the Indiana State Department of Health agreed that with Indiana having a novel coronavirus positivity rate of less than 4%, the state could move to Stage 5. That positivity rate has increased to 5.3%, but Stage 5 will continue with all of the mandates, including masks, still in place, the governor announced.
Also, ISDH Health Commissioner Kristina Box announced that she, her daughter and grandson all have tested positive for COVID-19.
In response, the governor, people in the governor’s office and in the ISDH were tested Wednesday afternoon. The governor will quarantine until the results are known.
The governor said that Stage 5 is not a free pass to go back to normal.
The mask mandate is still in place, as are group limits, social distancing, handwashing and staying home when sick.
What he wants to see is people moving responsibly in Stage 5.
At the beginning of the pandemic, the state had to hunker down to get its footing, to make sure there was enough personal protective equipment, ventilators and more, Holcomb said, adding “and Indiana did that.”
During that time, the state saw promise in lowered numbers and progress, but it negatively affected the economy and schools.
“The shutting down approach is missing the point,” he said. “When talking to other governors, they are all seeing a rise and can all trace it back to not a stage but behavior and actions and folks who are cavalier. And that can happen in a setting of 2, 20, 200 or 2,000.”
“This is not the stage where the checkered flag comes out,” Holcomb said.
He realizes people have mask fatigue, but it’s necessary, especially as hospitalizations are increasing.
District 2, which Elkhart County is part of along with St. Joseph, Kosciusko, Marshall, Fulton, Starke and Pulaski counties, was one of three districts in the state where hospitals are experiencing “significant shortages” in health-care staff, Weaver said.
The governor said that Indiana will stay in Stage 5 for the next month and that will be reassessed next week.
“This is not the time to abandon what we are doing,” he said.
Holcomb said he wants Hoosiers to show regard for their neighbors, because not doing so can cost lives and can affect whether children can stay in school. People, regardless of gathering sizes, should wear masks, social distance, wash their hands and stay home if they are sick, he said.
It’s not large social gatherings where people are following the guidelines that are spreading the novel coronavirus, Holcomb pointed out. The governor said the spread is coming from close-contact events, like family gatherings, where people let their guards down.
“Those events are the very events that are the big contributor,” Holcomb said.
The governor pointed out that school children and staff are showing everyone else how to safely go about life by following these guidelines.
“Those inactions are costing, just to be blunt, health care costs, lost wages, business failures. Don’t kid yourself, we’re all paying this bill,” Holcomb said. He went on to add, “Throwing caution to the wind, ultimately ends up costing us all. It is the literal definition of whistling past the graveyard, pretending this isn’t around us.”
Goshen Schools Interim Superintendent Steve Hope stated in an email about the leveling up to orange: “We will continue to monitor the situation and we will continue to consult with the Elkhart County Health Department. Although the number of cases in the community are increasing rapidly, the number of cases within Goshen Community Schools has been relatively constant since the first week of school. We have seen a slight increase in staff members with a positive test for COVID this week. Teachers, students and staff continue to do a great job of wearing masks, physical distancing as much as possible and washing hands frequently. To date, we have still not experienced a student case of COVID spread at school. Since the start of school, all of the positive cases in Goshen Community Schools have been from community sources of contagion. We have no plans to change our course of action right now. In fact, going to a hybrid schedule or a virtual schedule could actually make things worse, with students out and about in the community rather than in the controlled environment of school.
“Goshen Schools will continue to mitigate the local rise in cases whenever and however we can. We will reduce the number of spectators at sporting events and other school events to 25% of the normal capacity. If numbers do not improve, then we may need to have parents of student-athletes and student-musicians only in attendance at events. We continue to ask all students and staff to create and maintain a small social bubble of just 10 friends who are seen regularly and to not expand beyond that social bubble. Keeping a small social bubble, wearing a mask, frequent handwashing, and maintaining a physical distance of six feet have all proven to be strong mitigation efforts.”
“Personal responsibility during this pandemic is imperative. For the health and well-being of everyone in our community we all need to follow these same precautions. With this rapid increase in cases, it becomes even more important that we all wear masks and maintain a physical distance of six feet while in public. This is a time to double down on those efforts, not ease up. Our goal is to keep our schools open to serve our students and families. By not following these precautions, we are putting our school community at a greater risk. We are all in this together, and we can only succeed when we all do our part.”
MIRACLES AT MAIN & MARKET CANCELED
Nappanee Mayor Phil Jenkins announced Monday at the Board of Public Works meeting that the Miracles at Main & Market Christmas parade and celebration was canceled.
“Unfortunately, we’re not seeing the numbers go down,” Jenkins said.
He added that in order to have the amount of people in the pavilion after the parade, they’d need the numbers to be lower than they currently are. He reminded everyone of the need to social distance, wear masks, wash their hands frequently and, if exposed to someone sick, to go get a free test at Goshen Physicians at Heritage Farms. He said information on testing sites is available on the Elkhart County Health Department’s website and the City of Nappanee’s website www.nappanee.org.
“Unfortunately, COVID is not going away and the numbers are elevated again in St. Joe and Elkhart counties,” Jenkins said.
Denise Fedorow contributed to this report.