The Grant County Health Board rescinded COVID-19 testing mandates and recommendations for local schools at a special meeting Wednesday following further state and national guidance and the advice of legal counsel.
At a special meeting on June 22, the board approved a policy pending the approval of legal counsel requiring all local K-12 school employees and all students involved in athletics and performing arts be tested for COVID-19 at least three weeks prior to the start of school. The policy also recommended that all students K-12 should be tested three weeks before school starts regardless of their activities.
Board attorney David Glickfield said he reviewed state statutes with county commissioners’ attorney Kyle Persinger, and they both came to the conclusion that the health board did not have the authority to mandate testing unless there was an emergency declaration in effect. The State of Indiana’s public health emergency declaration is set to expire July 4.
“We’ll revert to what our state statute says, and our state statute basically says unless we can show it’s an emergency we can’t do this,” he said. “When you reviewed this you were under a different, under a state of emergency, and I think that’s ending shortly so the powers that come from that are going to end on that date.”
Glickfield cautioned that even if the board did have the authority to mandate the testing, they would have to give those opposed to the testing mandate the opportunity to argue against it in court which would open the board up to court costs and legal fees.
“Normally when you want to do something and you’re going to impinge on somebody’s liberties or freedom, they have to have an opportunity to be heard in court,” Glickfield said. “As it stands right now, I don’t even think we could win if we went to court. We have to provide that opportunity unless an emergency exists and as it sits right now I don’t think we can get to that level to do that.”
Glickfield said Grant County Health Officer Dr. William David Moore does have certain powers and authorities under state statute to take certain action he deems necessary, such as closing a school that sees an outbreak of COVID-19 cases, but those are exceptions that would not apply to the testing mandate policy the board passed.
Health board member Dr. Philip Renfroe asked if there was a certain threshold of infected children or other guidelines for how Moore should make a decision to close a school.
“I assume if we get to that point the two of us will discuss and we’ll see if that is necessary,” Glickfield responded. “I’m assuming we’ll bring in the school, get their take on that, but he does have that ability. But I’m sure that’s a power that he would wield if it was necessary but would certainly administer properly.”
Moore said following Glickfield’s advice, he was prepared to recommend the board change the mandates to strong recommendations that school employees and students in extracurricular activities be tested.
However, he has since been in contact with ISDH Chief Medical Officer Dr. Lindsay Weaver and informed that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is now not recommending broad testing as a screening for asymptomatic school employees and students. The CDC guidance states universal testing for school communities has not been symptomatically studied and it’s currently unknown if testing would help reduce spread of the virus any more than social distancing, wearing masks, hand washing and other disinfection would bring, Moore said.
“Therefore CDC does not recommend universal testing of all students and staff,” Moore said, reading from a text message detailing the latest CDC guidance. “Implementation of a universal approach to testing in schools may impose challenges such as a lack of infrastructure to support routine testing, a follow up in the school setting, unknown acceptability of this testing approach among students, parents and staff, lack of dedicated resources, practical considerations related to testing minors and potential disruption in the educational environment.”
According to Moore, federal provisions stating Medicaid and Medicare would cover the cost of COVID-19 tests are also changing and testing for “surveillance or employment purposes” (for asymptomatic individuals) is no longer required to be covered.
Moore said this could lead to asymptomatic individuals no longer being able to receive a test if they want one at state-run Optum testing sites if there is no clear answer who will pay for the test or if the Optum qualifications change and no longer accept asymptomatic individuals.
As of Thursday, the ISDH website still states that any individual who lives or works in Indiana is eligible for free COVID-19 testing at the Optum sites, including the Marion location at the Clarence Faulkner Community Center, 1221 W 12th St.
“I think that we should say that testing is helpful but I don’t think that we can even now say that we recommend that all of the teachers be tested, all of the personnel be tested based on what Dr. Weaver told me today,” Moore said. “Nor can we say that all of the athletes just because they’re going to be in high risk should be tested and expect that that should be covered by the Optum (testing) that is there. So the landscape has changed radically in the nine days since we last made our recommendation.”
Due to the updated guidance and information, the board voted unanimously to rescind the two mandates and the one recommendation regarding testing for schools. Renfroe noted the board and Moore were working with the best information they had at the time when the policy was approved, but now it is not feasible.
“I think that this plan was made in good faith in an effort to try to control and address problems before they arise, so I commend Dr. Moore’s efforts to be proactive in this particular area,” he said.
Since large scale testing as a way to screen for COVID-19 in schools no longer seems feasible, board member Chad Leighty asked how schools were preparing to teach staff and students alike to self-screen for symptoms of the coronavirus.
Marion Community Schools nurse Sue Nicholson said the state is going to be sharing a Powerpoint or webinar presentation so all districts are on the same page on how to teach self-screening. From there, Nicholson said at Marion the plan is to train teachers on screening during in-service days before school and teach send guidance to kids at home and teach screening in classrooms in August.
Leighty also asked where things stood with districts’ mask-wearing policies. Mississinewa Community Schools Superintendent Tab McKenzie said his district has purchased masks for every employee and is working to get masks for every student, and it will be strongly recommended that individuals wear masks in school.
“We’re not going to mandate it at this point and I’m not aware of any public school in Grant County that intends to mandate at this point,” he said. “But as everybody knows, things are changing nationally and in my mind I’m wanting Mississinewa to be prepared for the very real possibility that it could be mandated in the future during this coming school year and we want to be ready for that possibility.”
They say a picture’s worth a thousand words, but local Vietnam Veteran Archie Lintz has held onto a photo he took on Independence Day 1970 at Quang Tri Combat Base that has been dubbed a ‘snapshot of the U.S.A.’
It was July 4, 1970 when Lintz asked three men in the bunker next to his to pose for a photograph. It was one of twelve he took after he was drafted to serve in the Vietnam War in 1968.
He wasn’t a professional photographer by any means – in fact, the photo he’s come to cherish from his time in the service was taken on an old polaroid camera, one that “whirs out like that” Lintz says using his best impression of instant camera film developing.
Despite his admitted lack of photography skills, he says the he’s always felt a bit partial to the photo and has tried to preserve it all these years. Unlike some of the other polaroids he took, the colors of the photograph haven’t faded much.
“I didn’t know them personally or by name, I don’t even know what unit they were in – they were in the bunker next to mine,” Lintz recalled. “We got to talking – during the daytime we ran the country, you could stand on top of a bunker. But at nighttime – it was a different story. They ran the country at night.”
Quang Tri Combat Base was protected by a perimeter of Concertina wire and a series of bunkers. Flares were used to search the free-fire zone outside base perimeter at night. Each sector had a different color flare, and the night of July 4th, Lintz and fellow soldiers set off a great fireworks display. Although this was not appreciated by the brass.
The man on the viewer’s left is holding an M-16 rifle, the one in the middle an M-69 grenade launcher, and the man on the right mans an M-60 machine gun. The bunker is covered with sandbags and was likely an old French concrete bunker that the soldiers had reinforced, just like the neighboring bunker Lintz himself resided in.
The photograph of the two Black soldiers and one white soldier almost didn’t make it home. According to Lintz, 50 years ago they searched soldiers for pictures of war.
“They didn’t want pictures of war coming out of the country, and I think I sent that one home in a letter to my wife now,” Lintz said.
As the 50th anniversary of the photo came near, Lintz asked his friends what they thought of the photo.
One wrote: “The photo strikes me as a very American image and one of the time. You have three soldiers standing together, one large midwesterner and two guys who are probably from the city, one of whom is channeling Malcom X and the other Billy D. Williams. It very much strikes me as a snapshot of the U.S.A. at the time.”
Another added: “They strike me as being very young men. They look like they belonged in high school – too young to be in a war.”
Archie, a self-proclaimed history buff, hopes the nation will remember the 58,221 Americans who gave their lives in the service of their country in Vietnam along with the other American soldiers who have died in battle as the country celebrates Independence Day.
According to the Vietnam Conflict Extract Data File, records show 58,220 military fatal casualties of the Vietnam War. Lintz says he added the one to his count to remember the first and last soldier killed in Vietnam.
“The number of our soldiers killed – it seems like this is the last war that they really don’t have an exact number. There’s a number associated with the war dead at the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial,” Lintz said. “I added the one to it because I wanted the one to represent the first and the last soldier killed in Vietnam. I just don’t like to see that number rounded off because it’s people.”
Although he only had twelve photographs from his polaroid, Lintz has countless other snapshots stored the form of memories that he’s carried with him for over 50 years.
“People who know me say I tell tall tales,” Archie wrote in a one-page personal memoir accompanying the photo. “Those of you have drank draft beer with me can best judge, but I will say in my defense that I am not responsible for what I say when sober.”
The “tall tales” Lintz talks about are those stories he recalls that some may find hard to believe – the stories that are too fantastic to be true. While Lintz is working on writing down his own memoirs (a task he finds boring because he’s already “been there, done that”) he shared a few of those memories with me.
Lintz was attending Ball State University on borrowed money, which was barely enough to live on. When he left college, he decided to volunteer for the draft instead of waiting around for a job since it was hard to get hired by anybody at that time because males were subject to the draft.
“I had to get on with my life,” Lintz said. “So I volunteered for the draft and they drafted me out of Huntington County to fill the quota in 1968.”
Lintz recalls boarding a rickety old bus very early morning, “an hour in the morning where you don’t think about life really going on,” at the Erie Railroad train depot where Pizza Junction in Huntington now resides.
The bus embarked for Indianapolis picked up a number of other men along the way. When they arrived, the receptionist station was overcrowded and bustling with soon-to-be soldiers during the height of inducting.
“When I got to the point where I was supposed to take a urine sample, I was so dehydrated I couldn’t,” Lintz said. “And the guy who was at the table there just poured somebody else’s urine into my cup and took off with it – that’s how fast they were going.”
The “no-win war” as Lintz calls it dragged on so long that some of its veterans had served in World War Two while others are now baby boomers.
Race relations in the Army were bad at the time, Lintz recalled, but not where combat was imminent.
“When the film “Planet of the Apes” was played one day in camp, all cheered for the humans,” Lintz said. “That is the way it always should be.”
The Vietnam War was fought without a Declaration of War as required by the Constitution, then ran by politicians until lost, Lintz remembers.
“Our troops were not defeated. They did their part,” Lintz said. “This country’s leaders did not have the wisdom to know when to send its young people to war, nor the determination to win a war once in and make good their sacrifices. Anyhow, those who gave their all deserve to be remembered on days like July 4 and we need to be the kind of people who do that. May God bless the U.S.A. and may her war dead rest in peace.”
When Lintz returned home to the United States, it wasn’t easy returning to a country that looked somehow different than the one he left behind years earlier in 1968. When he was dropped off in Ft. Wayne, he hitched a series of rides back to his home.
“When I got home I hitch-hiked from Ft. Wayne to my folks’ home in Union Township,” Lintz said. “The first ride I got was a World War II Veteran, the second a Korean War Veteran, and the last another Vietnam War Veteran.”
Nowadays, Lintz is writing his memoirs so his family can learn about his experience. Even though he’s “lived it,” “done that,” “talked about it” and has grown tired of hearing his own stories, he’s putting the pen to paper at his son’s request.
“My son wanted it and so I would use photographs that I had and letters – the ones that were saved home,” Lintz said of the photos he’s held onto all these years that still bring back so many memories and stories. Those snapshots of the U.S.A. “They helped me to remember and to put something together.”
Health officials are emphasizing the need to continue to keep a close eye on the mental health of children and adults alike as Grant County and the world continues to navigate the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic.
At a community COVID-19 update Wednesday, Dr. Michael Conn of Grant-Blackford Mental Health said some children may be experiencing stress, anxiety or other symptoms of poor mental health due to all of the changes that have been thrown their way since the pandemic began, especially since they will be entering a new normal when they return to school next month.
Conn said while there’s no one magic warning sign, parents should look for marked changes in behavior such as a child sleeping much more or much less than normal, getting in fights and throwing fits with other children when they typically get along and fighting through a mealtime. These changes can be red flags that alert parents their child may be struggling, he said.
If a child’s behavior is dangerous or causing harm to his or herself or others, Conn said parents should seek help right away. Otherwise, he recommends that parents first try to address the problem at home and remind kids to “take control of what we have control of.”
“There’s a lot going on right now that we have absolutely no control over,” Conn said. “But what do we have control over? Well, you know I have control over what kind of person I want to be. I have control over what I want to say and what I want to think and what I want to do.”
Conn said parents should also reestablish routines that may have been relaxed during summer or the stay-at-home order. Even though kids may push back against the structure of a day, Conn said it is “essential” and helps children organize and process the world around them.
“Regardless of how much they resist, they absolutely need structure, and that structure teaches them that the world is predictable,” Conn said. “No matter how chaotic the world gets there are some constants, and if parents are noticing that there’s some changes in children’s behavior, the first thing to try, the first thing to get under control or to manage, is tightening up the consistency in the household.”
Many times these tools will help improve a child’s mental health without outside intervention, but Conn said to call Grant-Blackford at 765-662-3971 or 800-755-3469 if the child continues to struggle with certain attitudes and behaviors that are detrimental to their mental health.
The advice to take control of what you can control and establish a routine are also beneficial for adults, Conn said.
Full operations at Grant-Blackford have continued throughout the pandemic with transitions to some services offered via telephone and video conferencing, according to Conn.
“Our inpatient unit is still open, we’re providing crisis care to people. Our childhood and addiction services are still operating at full capacity,” Conn said. “We haven’t slowed down one bit. So the pandemic even what it is, we’re charging right ahead.”
The agency is also now offering a support group for COVID-19 front line workers, encompassing medical professionals, first responders, grocery store workers, sanitation workers and anyone else who has been directly fighting against the virus.
“These are all people that have been profoundly affected by the pandemic who are suffering significantly from isolation, from direct trauma, from the pandemic,” he said. “So (in the group) you’re seeing that there are other people who are struggling as well and you’re also getting these very important skills to deal with a very unique time.”
Through grant funding, the program will be free to the front line workers, and those interested can participate through video conference or in person, with from two to 50 people able to participate at a time, Conn said.
“This is a program that was developed during the Ebola crisis, so it’s battle tested programming,” Conn said. “And we’ve got that program developed and ready to employ.”
For more information on the front line worker support group or any of the services Grant-Blackford provides, visit www. cornerstone.org.
Many Grant County residents will enjoy a three-day Independence Day weekend, but the coronavirus won’t be taking any days off.
Grant County Health Officer William David Moore said it is still recommended that people wear masks, practice social distancing of at least six feet, sanitize surfaces and wash hands often when attending picnics, barbecues or fireworks shows with people outside of your immediate family you have been in contact with.
Overall, Moore said Grant County residents have done a good job of flattening the curve of the virus and following guidelines, which has made it unnecessary for the county to issue stricter guidelines regarding mask wearing and social gatherings.
“We want to react to, we want to be aware of what can happen, but we want to react to what does happen, and in Grant County we seem to be doing well,” he said. “We want to have restrictions only if they’re necessary, if they change anything...I’m proud of the people here. We may need to change what we do if we see something different, but for right now what we’re doing is working.”
The City of Marion’s July 3 fireworks display has been moved from Matter Park to Ballard Field and all food vendors and musical performances have been canceled, steps Moore said will help encourage social distancing.
Moore said the community can still enjoy their 4th of July celebrations with friends and family while remembering to take the steps to fight against the spread of the virus. He noted Grant County has already demonstrated a good track record of being safe while in large crowds when protests following the death of George Floyd brought hundreds to downtown Marion in early June.
“We’ve had in Grant County particularly an event where the protests were going on and there were people who were together without that and it doesn’t seem to have created a big problem,” he said.
Moore acknowledged that following the safety guidelines isn’t always easy, but he encouraged everyone to wear masks and stay socially distant to the best of their ability.
“We talk about social distancing and wearing masks, and in the heat of the summer and with people that you haven’t seen for five, six months, that’s really hard to do,” he said.
Despite the uncertainty of the pandemic currently, Moore said he is optimistic of a light at the end of the tunnel while also preparing for worst case scenarios.
“We will be moving into less and less need for social distancing and mask wearing but aware of what is the pattern in our community, and if we see it start to tick up, particularly start to tick up in a dangerous way where we get hospitalizations, ICU admissions and deaths, that we’re prepared to respond to that,” he said. “Without that (uptick), then we can continue to learn what this new normal is going to be.”
The Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH) Thursday announced that 453 additional Hoosiers have been diagnosed with COVID-19 through testing at ISDH, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and private laboratories. That brings to 46,387 the total number of Indiana residents known to have the novel coronavirus following corrections to the previous day’s total.
A total of 2,469 Hoosiers are confirmed to have died from COVID-19, an increase of 13 over the previous day. Another 193 probable deaths have been reported.
As of today, nearly 41 percent of ICU beds and more than 83 percent of ventilators are available. To date, 496,835 tests have been reported to ISDH, up from 489,716 on Wednesday.
For more information, visit www.coronavirus.in.gov.
Gov. Eric J. Holcomb Wednesday announced he has selected Joe Hoage to serve as the commissioner at the Indiana Department of Labor and Josh Martin to serve as chief data officer at the state’s Management Performance Hub.
Hoage has served as the general counsel for the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles since 2017. Prior to joining the BMV, Hoage was general counsel for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. He has also served as the state’s public access counselor and has worked as an attorney with the Indiana Gaming Commission and as a deputy prosecutor in Marion County.
Martin is currently the interim chief data officer at the Indiana Management Performance Hub and has served as the agency’s chief of staff since 2015. Prior to joining the agency, Martin served as the program director of government efficiency and financial planning at the state Office of Management and Budget.
Hoage will begin his new position on July 13. Martin’s promotion is effective immediately.