GOSHEN — The Indiana Department of Health opened up vaccinations to those 70 and older Wednesday.

“We were not anticipating that,” Elkhart County Health Officer Dr. Bethany Wait said. She had thought the jump from 80 to 70 would take place next week.

Those who are 70 years old and older can register at ourshot.in.gov by calling 211 or people can call Elkhart County’s call center from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday at 574-523-2106 and the staff will sign them up, Wait said. She explained three people are answering the call center’s phones, but they will try to get more volunteers to help.

“I think that will be a better way,” Wait said. “I think the biggest issue for this population has been the logistics of signing up.”

She also wanted to let people know that the health department has wheelchairs available and people who can assist them with getting in and out of the building.

“If you have mobility issues, if you come to the health department, you won’t have any obstacles,” Wait said. Those getting vaccines will get in and out safely and as quickly as possible.

She estimates most people are in and out in 20 to 25 minutes, including the 15-minute wait time.

One other note, she said, is there may be a lag on the state registration site because all appointments are going through that site.

And because the state controls the site and registration, they also control which days are available for appointments.

“They are controlling every single aspect of it,” Wait said.

The state opening up vaccinations to 70 and older immediately filled the slots the Elkhart County Health Department had open.

“We are full,” Wait said of the schedule. Appointments are booked solid until next Wednesday.

She encourages people who are 70 and older to call as soon as possible to reserve a time slot for the free vaccination. However, waiting won’t hurt, she said. They will get in in two weeks.

Wait thinks that perhaps the state will open up more days for people to get their vaccinations since the federal government has released its stockpile of the vaccine.

That said, she learned that the state has lowered the amount of vaccines that are coming in next week. Although, that could change, she said. Right now, there are 500 people scheduled to receive vaccines, and she’s anticipating receiving close to that amount.

“I cannot believe we are going to have extras,” she said. So a wait list of about 10 names that she had this week to avoid wasting vaccines may not be needed. If the situation changes, she will reconsider the list.

“It’s a week-by-week conversation,” she said of the number of vaccines.

The clinic is closed on Thursdays. Wait said that if the state would send more vaccines, she has proposed to the state going mobile on Thursdays. She is waiting on a response.

A great concern to Wait is there are no vaccination sites outside of Goshen and Elkhart.

Elkhart has two — the health department and Elkhart General Hospital — and Goshen has one at Goshen Hospital.

But what about the other communities — Nappanee, Bristol, Millersburg, Wakarusa and Middlebury? she asked.

If the state will give the county more vaccinations, the health department will go mobile to these areas, she said.

“We are formulating a game plan for that,” Wait said, adding that they are just waiting for approval.

She wants to make it fair to everyone.

“We’re not forgetting about you guys in the outskirts of the county,” Wait said.

GCS STUDENTS BACK IN CLASS

Despite Elkhart County returning to the most severe “red” designation under the state’s color-coded COVID-19 system Wednesday, Goshen Community Schools students will be returning to in-person classes as of Tuesday.

In a news release sent out Wednesday afternoon, GCS officials announced that students in grades seven through 12 will be moving from Course V, or all virtual classes, to the less restrictive Course III beginning Tuesday.

Under Course III, students attend in-school classes on Mondays and Tuesdays, have virtual classes on Wednesdays to allow for thorough cleaning and mitigation efforts in the school buildings, and then they attend in-school classes again on Thursdays and Fridays.

According to GCS Superintendent Steven Hope, that decision was made after he was informed Wednesday morning that Elkhart County has remained in the state’s less severe “orange” designation for two consecutive weeks.

However, it now appears that announcement was premature, as the state’s color-coded system, which updates every Wednesday at noon, is currently listing Elkhart County as having moved back into the “red” designation.

When asked about the discrepancy during a phone call late Wednesday afternoon, Hope appeared unaware that the county had been upgraded to the “red” designation.

“I meet weekly with all the other superintendents, the county commissioners and the Elkhart County Health Department,” Hope said during the call. “At that meeting this morning, it was stated that we were ‘orange.’”

However, even with the upgrade to “red” status, Hope said he feels the change to Course III is warranted, and thus will not be changing his recommendation at this time.

“Numbers in Elkhart County overall are trending in the right direction. We’re going down. And hospitals have seen some relief,” Hope said. “So, I think we’re OK. And the rest of the schools in Elkhart County are going back to school on Tuesday as well. But we’ll watch that very closely.”

According to Wednesday’s news release, due to the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday falling on Monday, students will not attend in-school or virtual classes that day. Instead, they will return to school Tuesday, be home for virtual classes Wednesday as Course III indicates, and then return to in-school classes Thursday and Friday.

“Barring any unforeseen circumstances, beginning on Jan. 25, 2021, students in grades 7-12 will resume a normal Course III schedule,” the release states. “Students in grades K-6 and students at Merit Learning Center will continue with their same schedule of in-school instruction, although they will also have no classes for the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday on Monday, Jan. 18, 2021.

“While we plan to bring students back into the classroom and look forward to the day that vaccines are more readily available to people in our county, the COVID-19 pandemic is still at a critical stage in Goshen and in Elkhart County. Please do not let up on your mitigation efforts!” the release adds. “We still need everyone to wear masks around others, wash their hands frequently or use hand sanitizer, and maintain 6 feet of physical distance from others. If we continue to make the effort to stay safe and protect others, we can finish the rest of this school year together.”

Anyone with questions or concerns about the change are asked to call the GCS Central Office at 574-533-8631.

Sheila Selman can be reached at sheila.selman@goshennews.com or 574-533-2151, ext. 240311. Follow Sheila on Twitter @sselman_TGN.

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