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County stays in blue, move to yellow soon likely

Grant County could see more back and forth between the blue and yellow status of the state’s COVID-19 metrics if current fluctuations in case counts continue, according to county officials.

At the weekly county community update Wednesday, Commissioner Mark Bardsley said the county is currently in the blue status, the lowest of the four advisory levels, but the last two days’ worth of data with higher case counts means the county could be back in the yellow status as early as next week. The county was downgraded from yellow to blue again a week ago.

“We’re fluctuating up, we’re fluctuating down, and I think that that’s probably going to be the trend for a while,” Bardsley said.

As vaccinations continue, Bardsley said the state and county are both right around a 50 percent herd immunity rate, with at least 70 percent needed to fully get the pandemic under control.

“Again, that reminds us we need to push the vaccination process, push more of our people to get their information, to feel comfortable about it and then move forward,” Bardsley said.

Health Officer Dr. William David Moore reiterated that after a pause in use of the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccination, it has been found that the benefits outweigh the risk of developing severe blood clots. Even so, vaccines are readily available at this point so that individuals can opt to receive the two-dose Pfizer or Moderna vaccines if they prefer.

“Fortunately, or unfortunately, we’re in a position where we have more supply than we do demand, so that people do have a choice now. And it’s available in a variety of different places,” Moore said. “Getting vaccinated isn’t something that’s just a concern for that individual. It’s something important for the whole society, because until we manage this and control it, among all of us, none of us are really safe and protected against this.”

At a Wednesday afternoon press conference, Indiana Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box noted the risk of severe blood clots from the J&J vaccine is about seven in a million, but the risk of serious blood clots as a result of a COVID infection is about 165,000 in a million.

Bardsley said the county continues to keep its mask advisory, a strong recommendation to wear masks in public places, in place, but new CDC guidance gives more latitude to vaccinated people.

The CDC recommends people who are fully vaccinated (two weeks past their second dose or a single J&J dose) can participate in outdoor activities without wearing a mask, except for in certain crowded settings or venues. Moore noted vaccinated people also do not need to quarantine if exposed to a COVID-19 infectious person unless they develop symptoms.

“There was a question early on whether being vaccinated still left you able to transmit the virus, and the best evidence says that there’s very little likelihood that those who have been vaccinated will transmit it,” Moore said. “It’s not zero, but it’s very close to zero, enough that there’s not enough benefit to quarantine those who have been vaccinated.”

Box said about 33 percent of the state’s eligible population is fully vaccinated, but it is imperative more Hoosiers get vaccinated as more transmissible and deadly variants become more common in the state. As of Wednesday, Indiana has reported 823 cases of the UK variant, 210 cases of the California variant, 37 cases of the Brazil variant and six cases of the South Africa variant, she said.

“Hoosiers, COVID is still here and it is not going away any time soon,” Box said. “Please stay vigilant. Please don’t let your guard down.”

Indiana Department of Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Lindsay Weaver said even with vaccination open to those 16 and older for about a month now, younger populations are vaccinated at a lower rate than older Hoosiers.

About 75 percent of Hoosiers 80 and older have been fully vaccinated, received a first dose or have an appointment scheduled, with 79 percent ages 70-79, 69 percent ages 60-69 and 52 percent ages 50-59. Weaver said the younger age groups represent a dramatic drop-off, as only 41 percent of those 40-49, 34 percent of those 30-39, 28 percent ages 20-29 and 25 percent 16-19 have begun their vaccination process.

While younger populations remain vaccinated at lower rates, Weaver said the greatest increase in cases is occurring among 20- and 30-year-olds. Since March 1, there has been a 130 percent increase in cases between ages 30-39 and a 93 percent increase in 20-29-year-olds compared to a 16 percent increase in the 70-79 population, she said.

The vaccines continue to prove safe and effective at preventing COVID infection, serious illness and death, as Weaver noted only 0.04 percent of individuals have experienced a “breakthrough” case of COVID-19 infection after being fully vaccinated.

Weaver said the state is using a variety of methods to inform residents of vaccine clinic locations and opportunities and encourage vaccination and routinely hears several common reasons why Hoosiers aren’t getting vaccinated.

About 36 percent of Hoosiers who have had a COVID infection have also begun the vaccination process, Weaver said, but often people who already had COVID say they don’t need to get the vaccine. Weaver said this is not true because it is unknown how long antibodies from an infection last, and vaccines provide a much higher rate of antibody protection.

“I want to encourage the more than 700,000 Hoosiers who have had COVID to strongly consider getting vaccinated,” she said.

Weaver said other people say they don’t want the vaccine because they are “perfectly healthy,” but she said that is a “false sense of security” because COVID could cause severe illness and death for anyone.

Moore said any individual who experiences symptoms, or unvaccinated people who have been determined to be a close contact of a COVID positive, can still be tested at the Faulkner Center through Optum at least through the end of May.

Marion Community Schools Superintendent Brad Lindsay said with about three weeks of student days remaining this year, there are currently four students or staff isolating after testing positive for COVID and 45 others proactively quarantined after being determined to be a close contact of a positive.

Marion Earth Day celebration returns after year in hibernation

After the COVID-19 pandemic canceled last year’s City of Marion Earth Day celebration, weather played a factor in delaying it again from April 22 to April 27. After a full year on the shelf, five more days to wait seemed like no time at all for organizers.

Marion Utilities and Matter Park once again partnered to bring the Earth Day celebration to fruition Tuesday.

The event featured children’s activities, eco-friendly vendors, food and free trees and compost for those who were able to attend.

In addition to the vendors and the free tree and compost opportunities, there was a chance to learn about the planet and the environment.

These learning opportunities converged into two main ideas, preserve today and protect tomorrow.

Matter Park worker Taylere McCoy said that this is her favorite event of the year and something that she dedicates herself to each year, and she was glad to see the event return.

“It means a lot,” said McCoy. “COVID was rough on all of us. We love to have events, to have our community come out and get to participate with each other, especially Earth Day because it’s my favorite event. So it was a pretty big deal.”

McCoy said there are many things people can do or change in their daily routines to benefit the environment in the long haul. The most basic first step, though, is to educate oneself on the issues at hand.

“Basically what people can do, there is a lot,” said McCoy. “The first thing is to educate themselves or attend events like this or do some research online, but try to use reputable resources.”

Once someone has made an effort to educate themselves, McCoy said the next step is to spread awareness.

“Spread awareness, I think that’s the key,” said McCoy. “There’s always the list that people give off like eating less meat, reducing your carbon footprint, using sustainable energy sources and those are all great, but I think awareness is the biggest thing.”

These all represent changes that can be made in the present that will affect the future, McCoy said. Parents and grandparents brought children out to see the displays and learn from a young age about making eco-friendly choices.

Neda Neubauer brought her grandson Jase Perry out to see the exhibits and said that the annual event provides good lessons for the next generation.

“We love to get the trees and plant them,” Neubauer said. “And it’s good lessons to the kids to learn how to do that and take care of things on their own until it gets big. And they like it, they seem to really like it.”

McCoy said that she hopes people who came to the event will continue to use what they learned to do more positive things in their community and in the environment.

Marion council passes signage ordinance onto second reading

The Marion Common Council discussed a proposed ordinance that would amend current rules for signage downtown at a recent meeting.

The new ordinance would allow for blade signs, a projecting sign usually mounted to a wall, column or pole over a sidewalk, to be expanded.

These signs face perpendicular to the traffic flow and are usually double-sided. The new ordinance would allow for these blade signs to have a maximum of 20 square feet of signage space and maintain 10 feet of clearance from their lowest hanging point.

This new ordinance would replace previous city code that prohibited signs of this nature. Currently all faces of signs mounted on or attached to a building must be parallel to the face of the building. The code only allows exception for “fin” type signs that are permitted in connection with automobile service stations.

City Planning Director Sam Ramsey said that in the previous six months there had been four variances approved to allow for businesses in the area to go against the in-place zoning rules and have a blade sign of this nature.

Ramsey said that the ordinance was brought before the council in an effort to streamline the process and allow for businesses to have the signs without having to go to the Board of Zoning Appeals for the variances.

Ramsey said that passing the ordinance would help in revitalizing the downtown area.

“With the revitalization of downtown starting back up, we’re hoping to get more businesses downtown, and hopefully they’ll want some more signage so they can advertise,” said Ramsey.

Council member Brad Luzadder asked why there was a law prohibiting signage of that nature in the first place, to which Ramsey said he was unsure, saying it was a decision made by the county when doing zoning laws. Ramsey said that the current zoning and blade sign prohibition had been in place since the 1970s.

Council member Jim Brunner asked for clarification on how much of the city would be considered to be “downtown” for the sake of the new ordinance. Ramsey clarified it was the central core zoning district, which goes from Second Street to Fifth Street north to south and from Branson Street to Boots Street east to west.

Luzadder said he thinks the ordinance would be beneficial to the city and could help the businesses advertise in a way that they had not previously been able to.

“I would just recommend that we continue to help businesses with whatever they need,” said Luzadder. “Whether that’s signage or display setups, if we want our city to flourish then we have to be willing to work in that direction.”

The council voted unanimously 8-0 to move the ordinance on to its second reading and public hearing at the next council meeting. Council member Don Batchelor was absent from the meeting.

IDOH updates COVID-19 count

IDOH updates COVID-19 count

EMA Director Bob Jackson Wednesday reported 19 new cases of COVID-19 in Grant County, bringing the county’s total number since the start of the pandemic to 7,594. A total of 172 county residents have died of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, he said.

Jackson said 75 new COVID cases have been reported locally over the past seven days, an average of approximately 11 new cases per day. Over the past 14 days, Jackson said 119 new cases have been reported, an average of approximately nine new cases per day.

The Indiana Department of Health (IDOH) Wednesday reported 1,272 new COVID-19 cases statewide. That brings to 717,564 the number of Indiana residents now known to have had the novel coronavirus following corrections to the previous day’s dashboard.

A total of 12,902 Hoosiers are confirmed to have died from COVID-19, an increase of 19 from the previous day. Another 410 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 9,711,225 tests, including repeat tests for unique individuals, have been reported to IDOH since Feb. 26, 2020.

COVID-19 vaccine information

COVID-19 vaccines are 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. Appointments can still be scheduled, but walk-ins are also now accepted at this time within the state system clinics.

Sixteen- and seventeen-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.

Visit uplandfamily pharmacy.com or call 765-998-8072 for information on Upland Family Pharmacy’s vaccine clinic that offers the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

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.

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.

For the month of April, VANIHCS will be conducting walk-in Moderna COVID-19 vaccination clinics Monday through Wednesday at the Fort Wayne and Marion campuses from 8-11:30 a.m.

FEMA will host a Johnson & Johnson mobile vaccine clinic at Allen Temple AME Church, 3440 S. Washington St. in Marion, on May 18 and 19 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Walk-in appointments will be available, or individuals can go online or call to schedule an appointment through the state system.

If you have recently received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, flu-like systems within the first few days of vaccination are part of the body’s normal immune response to the vaccine. Those symptoms include pain, redness and swelling in the arm where you got the vaccine, as well as tiredness, headache, muscle pain, chills, fever and nausea.

Anyone who develops a severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain, shortness of breath or leg swelling within three weeks after receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine should contact a health care provider and inform the provider of the symptoms and recent COVID-19 vaccination.

According to the Indiana Department of Health (IDOH) COVID-19 vaccine dashboard, 18,342 Grant County residents have received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while 15,598 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 2,315,568 Hoosiers have received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine requiring two doses, and 1,798,858 Indiana residents are fully vaccinated by receiving two doses or the one-dose J&J vaccine.

CSO advisory

Marion Utilities announced a combined sewer overflow (CSO) advisory for April 28.

When it rains, older sewer systems throughout the city can overflow, sending untreated rainwater mixed with sewage into the Mississinewa River and Boots Creek. In the event of rain, please avoid contact with water downstream of combined sewer overflows for the next three days. Signs are posted along the waterways to identify where contact with the water could be hazardous to your health. For more information, please visit marionutilities.com.

Public Safety Committee finishes scooter ordinance, sends it to full council

After months of work and meetings, the Marion Common Council’s Public Safety Committee has finalized and passed their scooter ordinance to the full council for consideration.

Work on the ordinance began over a month ago as a way to regulate the use and deployment of motorized scooters within the city.

In its current form, the ordinance will require all who choose to operate a motorized scooter in the city of Marion to follow traffic laws in the same way those driving a car must do.

The Marion Police Department will be in charge of enforcing that operators follow these rules.

The ordinance does not set forth a fine schedule for those who are ticketed for violation traffic laws. Instead, the ordinance refers to other sections of Marion code which allows for the city court judge over the case to determine the fine for the violation. The maximum fine a person can be subject to under the code is $2,500.

Motorized scooters are not allowed to be ridden on sidewalks or the Riverwalk or within the designated boundaries of a special event, per the ordinance.

Any scooter company that is in the city or comes to the city must purchase a license to operate the scooters from the city Code Enforcement Department. This license will cost no more than $300 plus an additional $10 per scooter deployed in the city.

The main point of discussion of the final meeting was determining what would be the best course of action for tracking when a license was purchased.

Each company must purchase the license, which would be valid for one year, and renew it within 30 days of the expiration of the previous license to continue to deploy scooters for the coming year.

The debate was whether to require all companies to purchase their license in the same time to make them all easier to track, or to let the companies purchase the licenses whenever through the year and then have them renew within 30 days from the original purchase date.

Marion Head of Code Enforcement Jerry Foustnight said that it would be the easiest to do the latter, as new technology in his department would make it possible to track each of the perspective purchase dates.

Anyone 15 or older may ride the scooters, provided they have a valid photo ID and a helmet.

Riders are required to park in a manner that is compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act regulations, not blocking any crosswalks or any public utilities.

The committee unanimously approved sending the ordinance to the full council with a favorable recommendation.

“I can’t tell you guys enough how thankful I am and how smooth this went,” said committee chair Brian Cowgill.

Committee member Robin Fouce concurred with Cowgill’s sentiment.

“It looks really good to me, and I think we’ve done good work, as I’ve said before,” Fouce said.

Fouce asked Marion Police Department Chief Angela Haley about how long it takes for an ordinance to pass before it gets to her and then down to her officers.

Haley said there have been times where it does not get to her as promptly as she would like.

“We need to probably do a better job at it,” said Haley. “Because once you pass an ordinance it isn’t always filtered down to us.”

Cowgill said that problem could be solved by sending the ordinance to Haley and her department himself to solve that problem once it is passed by council.

This is the first of several vehicles the committee has discussed writing new legislation for going forward. Other things on the list that had been previously discussed and may be up for future legislation include bikes, skateboards, rollerblades, golf carts, hoverboards, ATVs, lawnmowers and ADA compliant devices such as wheelchairs.