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County reports vaccine surplus

About a week after vaccine eligibility was expanded to Hoosiers 16 and older, Health Officer Dr. William David Moore said there is now a surplus of COVID-19 vaccine that is outpacing demand in Grant County.

Moore said while the county is receiving more supply of vaccines overall, including two additional vaccine clinics opening this week at the Marion Meijer and Upland Family Pharmacy, the surplus is largely a result of younger age groups not being as eager to get vaccinated compared to older groups.

“As we’ve hit from 45 on down, the percentage has been a precipitous drop,” he said. “...We have enough for those who want to be vaccinated, it appears right now.”

EMA Director Bob Jackson said the increased supply has led to many available appointments at county vaccine clinics, and it is fairly easy to get an appointment quickly. Moore noted the new eligibility expansion removes a requirement of permanent residence in Indiana, allowing out-of-state or international students or workers to be vaccinated.

CDC recommendations state individuals who are two weeks past their second dose of Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or their single dose of Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine do not have to quarantine or get tested for COVID if determined to be a close contact of a COVID-positive individual if they are asymptomatic, Moore said, speaking to the effectiveness of the vaccines in preventing COVID infection and transmission.

Moore said although some have expressed concern after a recent report of 15 million J&J doses being contaminated by a factory error, the fact the error was identified early in the process shows there are safeguards in place to make sure each vaccine being administered to patients is safe and effective.

Commissioner Mark Bardsley said the county, state and country are still in a race against time to get as many people vaccinated as possible as more infectious and deadly strains of COVID-19 become more prevalent.

“If you have not had that vaccine yet, we encourage you to study, to make a positive decision, and we encourage you to get that vaccine,” Bardsley said. “The more people we get vaccinated, the more we have that build up and antibodies in our system, the better we can fight any other strains that come this way.”

Bardsley said current estimates for Grant County place the population at about 50 percent herd immunity through COVID-19 infections or individuals being fully vaccinated, with health experts projecting it will take at least 70 percent herd immunity to have full control of the virus’s spread.

Grant County remains in the yellow zone of the state’s COVID-19 metrics this week, and Moore said cases, hospitalizations and positivity rates appear to be climbing across the state and country. Jackson reported lower case numbers Wednesday, and if the county continued that trend it could be back in the blue as soon as next week.

Bardsley reiterated the county is mirroring the state and has now transitioned from a mask mandate to a mask advisory, leaving the decision on requiring masks up to each private business entity. The county complex will continue to require masks for the time being, he said, with a plan for commissioners to reevaluate protocols on April 19.

“We strongly recommend that if you’re in large gatherings that you still mask up because transmission of this virus is very easy and we want to use all the protocols that we possibly can,” Bardsley said.

With the governor extending the state of emergency through at least the end of this month, Bardsley said all large public gatherings such as proms are still being held with the collaboration and guidance of the health department and Emergency Operations Center to ensure events are held safely.

Hands of Hope launches sexual assault awareness campaign

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and Hands of Hope is taking part in raising awareness by participating in several campaigns.

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in five women will be a victim of sexual assault in their lifetime.

Hands of Hope Director Linda Wilk said there are many commonly held misconceptions about sexual assault, the most common of which was the inspiration for the first campaign.

The “What were you wearing?” campaign traces its origins back to 2013 and aims to disprove the commonly held misconception that the clothing a victim wears plays a role in the perpetrator’s actions.

“It really focuses on the fact that many times the someone that’s sexually assaulted is not wearing anything provocative,” said Wilk. “They’re wearing sweatpants or jeans, or they maybe went for a run…They didn’t ask to be sexually assaulted, they didn’t wear anything to send that kind of message.”

Wilk said that communication is important to maintaining a healthy relationship and avoiding occurrences of rape and sexual assault.

“When you’re in a relationship, whether it’s a friend relationship or an intimate partner relationship, you need to communicate what your values are, what your beliefs are, what you want out of the relationship, physically, emotionally and verbally, so there’s no miscommunication,” said Wilk. “Consent is so important. Again, if someone has been drinking, they can’t consent.”

At Tuesday’s Marion city council meeting, Wilk and Marion Police Chief Angela Haley each addressed the council about the importance of education of sexual assault awareness.

“Statistically, we know those crimes go underreported in every community of the country,” said Haley. “There is a stigma associated with that…We want to encourage victims of sexual assault, sexual violence, to report those crimes to law enforcement.”

Haley said she wants victims to know that they have the option to go to Marion General Hospital for a sexual assault examination, and hospital workers can help in collecting evidence.

Victims can report the crime and have the exam done anonymously. Evidence collected will be stored for a full year, and the survivor has the full calendar year to then step forward and report the crime and the perpetrator.

Wilk said children need to be educated on the topic starting at a young age, as they too can be victims of sexual violence.

“Even at kindergarten/first grade we’re talking about wanted and unwanted touch,” said Wilk. “We want to make sure that children know that their body is their body and that they have the right to say no, that nobody should be violating them. If someone is, they need to be reaching out to a trusted adult.”

Wilk said part of that education for children can be identifying who would be a trusted adult that they can turn to.

“It may be a neighbor, a parent, an uncle, an aunt that’s sexually violating them, so it can be confusing about who to talk to,” said Wilk. “So we try to tell them who is someone that’s safe. If it’s happening with someone at home, then tell a teacher.”

Teaching children anatomically correct terms is also important, Wilk said, and that will help to minimize any chance that a plea for help will be lost in translation.

Eleven “What were you wearing?” displays are set up around Grant and Wabash counties with information regarding sexual assault and prevention, including at Marion City Hall, Marion General Hospital, Sender Café, Marion Public Library, Gas City City Hall, Marion High School and Indiana Wesleyan University’s Elder Hall.

Hands of Hope operates a 24-hour emergency helpline (765-664-0701) where a survivor can reach out for help. Family Services Society can also connect a person with counseling if needed.

At the council meeting, Grant County resident and sexual assault survivor Samantha Oyler shared her story of overcoming sexual violence and the effect it had on her life.

Oyler spoke of an experience she had while at Ball State University, stating she reported the event to the Title IX department at the university.

The student who perpetrated the assault was found responsible for his actions and was not allowed on campus the remainder of the school year, but that changed going into the next academic year.

“Coming back from summer break I had an email in my school inbox,” said Oyler, “saying that the term ‘force’ could not be applied to my situation as it did not meet Ball State’s definition of force.”

The student was therefore allowed back on campus, forcing Oyler to again contact the school’s Title IX department.

The student was again found responsible by the department and barred from campus, but this experience left its mark on Oyler.

“I almost failed out of school twice,” Oyler said. “I was seeing a counselor weekly for suicidal thoughts. I almost dropped out. I didn’t want to do this anymore.”

The devoted help from people such as her counselor and family helped Oyler through the dark days and toward her graduation, she said.

“Talk to victims,” Oyler told council. “Listen, believe and ask them how you can help.”

The second campaign is an act of solidarity with sexual assault survivors. Hands of Hope is encouraging people to participate in Teal Tuesdays for the remainder of April.

If a person does participate by wearing teal, the color of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, on Tuesdays during the month of April, Wilk encourages them to share photos to the Hands of Hope Facebook page or email her at lwilk@famservices.com where they can post it on their page.

“I know if we get enough people wearing teal, then hopefully victims will see that and realize they care about this issue,” said Wilk. “They care about me.”

The community is also invited to wear jeans and participate in Denim Day, April 28, to show solidarity with survivors of sexual assault. Wearing denim became a protest symbol in Italy when its Supreme Court court overturned a man’s conviction and concluded a sexual assault was consensual because the victim’s jeans were tight and she would’ve had to “help” the attacker take them off. The Italian Supreme Court later overturned its findings so that a victim wearing denim is no longer an acceptable defense for rape, and Denim Day is now an annual and international event.

M-G board approves additional legal expenses

The Madison-Grant United School Corporation board Monday gave district administration approval to spend more on legal fees in 2021 than originally allocated.

Assistant Superintendent Steve Vore said the board approved up to $10,000 in legal fees for the calendar year in January, but the district is already close to reaching that limit due to extensive legal work on two fronts. In February, the district approved a contract with ACCEL Schools to develop the M-G Virtual Academy, and M-G is also currently finalizing negotiations with Aspire Indiana Health to lease out the former administration building as a health care space.

Vore said about 70 percent of all legal costs so far this year have revolved around these two major projects.

Some board members expressed concern about giving the administration a “blank check” for legal fees for the rest of the year, noting they were not as familiar with counsel Jonathan Mayes of Bose McKinney & Evans LLP and did not want for example the district being billed an hourly rate of hundreds of dollars for a two-minute phone call.

Vore said in general the district utilizes Mayes’ legal services about as much as it used its previous counsel, but the two major projects are an outlier that do not represent a new normal of what will routinely be spent on legal fees going forward. He also noted that previous counsel would’ve had to outsource some of the work being done on the current contracts, but Bose McKinney can handle all of the district’s needs.

Board members stated they were not questioning the level of service the law firm provides but wanted to keep a close eye on the financials. The board gave approval for the district to spend more than the $10,000 allocated with the expectation that the board will be given routine updates either monthly or quarterly to review itemized legal expenditures.

In other business, the board approved an across-the-board $1,250 stipend for all employees who have worked for the district during the pandemic. Business Director Shaela Smith said 155 employees will receive the stipend April 16, for a total expenditure of $193,750.

“There have been additional duties each and every day to perform those functions safely, and so we are delivering an additional stipend to all staff members for that,” Superintendent Scott Deetz said in a recent phone interview.

The stipends will be paid for out of the approximately $850,000 the district will receive from the second round of the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, Smith said.

IDOH updates COVID-19 count

COVID-19 vaccine information

COVID-19 vaccines are now available to Hoosiers 16 and older. To schedule at a facility within the state system, visit ourshot.in.gov or call 211. Vaccines are free, but insurance may be charged an administrative fee. Appointments for the second dose will be made when the first dose is administered if receiving a Moderna or Pfizer vaccine that requires two doses.

The Grant County Health Department and Marion General Hospital (MGH) are operating vaccine clinics locally within the state system by appointment only, with no walk-ins accepted at this time.

16- and 17-year-olds are only permitted to receive the Pfizer vaccine, which is offered locally at MGH.

The Marion Walmart and Meijer locations are also offering COVID-19 vaccinations at their in-store pharmacies as part of the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program (FRPP). Eligible customers can schedule a vaccine appointment via the stores’ respective websites.

Upland Family Pharmacy is offering the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine at its clinic. To schedule an appointment, visit uplandfamilypharmacy.com.

All veterans can now receive a COVID-19 vaccine from VA Northern Indiana Health Care System (VANIHCS) regardless of their enrollment status or character of discharge. For the month of April, VANIHCS will be conducting walk-in J&J COVID-19 vaccination clinics every Thursday and Friday at the Fort Wayne and Marion campuses from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m.

Caregivers, Spouses, CHAMPVA Recipients and Veterans who are not enrolled in VANIHCS, please call (800) 360-8387 ext. 71101 to preregister. Phone lines are open 8 a.m. 4pm, Monday-Friday.

Those eligible to receive the COVID vaccine through the VA, provided they meet current age requirements of being 16 and above, include:

Anyone who served in the U.S. military, including National Guard, Reserves and Coast Guard

Commissioned members of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or the U.S. Public Health Service

Cadets or midshipmen of the U.S. military academies

Spouses of veterans, those in same-sex and common-law marriages, widow or widower of a veteran and individuals who characterize their relationship as spousal

Caregivers of a veteran, including family member or friend who provides care to the veteran, helps the veteran with personal needs like feeding, bathing, or dressing, or may also help the veteran with tasks like shopping or transportation.

Spouses or children of permanently and totally disabled veterans or of veterans who have died from service-connected disabilities.

All eligible veterans can continue to schedule an appointments Mondays through Wednesdays. To schedule an appointment, please call 1-800-360-8387 ext. 75113

In accordance with the new law, VANIHCS must continue to prioritize vaccinations and healthcare delivery for veterans already enrolled in VA care.

According to the Indiana Department of Health (IDOH) COVID-19 vaccine dashboard, 16,014 Grant County residents have received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while 11,493 are fully vaccinated through receiving both doses of a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or the single dose required for the J&J vaccine. Statewide, IDOH reports 1,827,696 Hoosiers have received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine requiring two doses, and 1,291,190 Indiana residents are fully vaccinated by receiving two doses or the one-dose J&J vaccine.

IDOH updates COVID-19 count

EMA Director Bob Jackson Wednesday reported two new cases of COVID-19 in Grant County, bringing the county’s total number since the start of the pandemic to 7,411. No new deaths were reported Wednesday, and a total of 167 county residents have died of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, he said.

Jackson said 55 new COVID cases have been reported locally over the past seven days, an average of approximately eight new cases per day. Over the past 14 days, Jackson said 122 new cases have been reported, an average of approximately nine new cases per day.

The Indiana Department of Health (IDOH) Wednesday reported 1,260 new COVID-19 cases statewide. That brings to 693,452 the number of Indiana residents now known to have had the novel coronavirus following corrections to the previous day’s dashboard.

A total of 12,694 Hoosiers are confirmed to have died from COVID-19, an increase of 15 from the previous day. Another 405 probable deaths have been reported based on clinical diagnoses in patients for whom no positive test is on record. Deaths are reported based on when data are received by the state and occurred over multiple days.

To date, a total of 9,078,051 tests, including repeat tests for unique individuals, have been reported to IDOH since Feb. 26, 2020.

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

Weather sirens testing this Saturday

EMA Director Bob Jackson said the monthly weather alert siren test for the county is scheduled to take place Saturday, April 10 at noon unless there is an actual threat of severe weather that could cause confusion by the sirens being activated. Weather siren tests are typically scheduled for the second Saturday of each month at noon, he said.

Gas City invests in vehicle charging station

Electric car owners will soon be able to shop in downtown Gas City while their cars are charging at City Hall, city officials say.

Electric Supervisor Dick Justice told Gas City Council Tuesday that the city has now signed an agreement with ChargePoint, a West Coast company, to install a two-vehicle universal charging port by the end of June.

Justice said the new station will act as an economic development tool, making Gas City a destination for travelers to spend time and shop check out all Gas City has to offer.

“The good thing about the charging system is that it puts us on the national map,” Mayor Bill Rock said. “So anyone with an electric car, Gas City will be one of the locations that pops up where you can stop at. It takes about three hours, we are putting it in a central location so while they are charging they can go shop at some of the local merchants.”

The city plans to place another charger out east near Interstate 69, possibly by the Holiday Inn Express, Rock said, to better accommodate Tesla owners since the charging port will take longer than three hours for that company’s models.

Justice said there is no timeline on the second charger since the city is still waiting on a response from their corporate office, but city officials said they are excited about the possibility of adding more chargers as demand increases.

“It’s kind of cool for our city,” Rock said. “It might not bring a lot of traffic now, but it’s the future.”

The infrastructure for a charger is about $50,000, Justice said, but the idea is to attract people to shop at the merchants and unique shops in town.

Justice said the city has consulted with Crawfordsville officials since they’ve had electric chargers for over a year now. Customers looking to charge their vehicle pay for the electricity by the hour, but Justice said the city of Crawfordsville made a small profit at the end of the year.

“It’s not a money maker for the city of Gas City,” he said. “Now I do need to stress that.”