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Northview Elementary closes for two weeks due to COVID-19

Students and teachers at Mississinewa’s Northview Elementary School will be conducting eLearning for the next two weeks after the district closed the school building due to COVID-19 concerns.

Northview was closed Friday, Aug. 28, and students and staff are currently scheduled to return to the building on Monday, Sept. 14.

Superintendent Tab McKenzie said as of Friday three Northview individuals have tested positive for COVID-19, including a student who plays youth sports on a community team. In addition, there have been approximately 80 Northview students and several staff members at home with COVID-19 symptoms over the past two weeks, as well as nearly 60 students and 10 staff members that have been directly exposed to the individuals who tested positive, he said.

“Every person who has been directly exposed to COVID-19 has been directly contacted and the Department of Health guidelines are being followed in these cases,” McKenzie said.

McKenzie said the two-week closure will allow the district to deep clean the building and for those tested positive, exposed to a positive individual or presenting with COVID-19 symptoms to quarantine and isolate as needed properly.

According to McKenzie, the district’s other three buildings have not had any confirmed COVID-19 cases and have significantly lower numbers of students and staff home with COVID-19 symptoms or who have been exposed to a person with COVID-19 compared to Northview. The other three buildings will remain open the next two weeks.

County Health Officer William David Moore said the health department worked with the district and used state guidelines to help make the determination to close the school.

“There were multiple exposures of kids at an age where they’re likely to be interacting with one another. When that happens, the likelihood of spread and the difficulty with being able to accurately trace is such that we do better to just stay back – to back off until the (affected people) have gone through (their) 10 day isolation and those who have been in contact so through their 14 day quarantine,” Moore said. “We can safely try to reopen again.”

McKenzie said the district and health department have been in constant communication to monitor the situation.

“Our corporation nurse is in daily conversation with the county health department, along with the county school nurses,” he said. “... As a district, we are constantly in collaboration with the county health department and they have been extremely helpful and supportive.”

Northview will be offering school meals – with charges based on the student’s status of free, reduced or paid meals – to students during the closure, with a curbside pickup of five breakfast meals and five lunch meals scheduled for Wednesdays, Sept. 2 and 9 from 4-6 p.m. at Northview’s Door No. 3. All virtual Mississinewa students kindergarten through 12th grade and all Northview Elementary students are eligible, and parents can sign up for the meals on the school’s website.

McKenzie said the district believes its experiences with COVID-19 at Northview are helping Ole Miss as a whole become better at contact tracing, social distancing and communicating internally and with the public.

“We know the best education opportunities are when students are in ‘in person’ at school. So, our objective at Mississinewa is to learn from these experiences thus far with COVID-19,” he said. “We may not be able to completely keep COVID-19 out of our schools. But, we intend to improve our plan to limit the exposure of COVID-19 in our schools. So in the future, when we have a case of COVID or have persons who have been directly exposed to COVID-19, we can limit the exposure and keep our buildings open.”

He said some school situations make it impossible to completely eliminate all interactions within 6 feet of a person for 15 minutes or more (the current definition of exposure), so the district is focused on limiting close contact. In practice, he says this looks like students sitting with the same people every day in class, on the bus, at lunch and in extracurriculars; teachers limiting situations where students are within 6 feet of each other and keeping those times under 15 minutes; and everyone in general working to limit such exposure when in public.

“We all need to have this general awareness of the COVID-19 exposure ‘rules’ and be thinking about it constantly in our human interaction until this pandemic is over,” McKenzie said. “If we severely limit our daily contacts in which we break the 6-foot-exposure rule (for 15 minutes or more) and document any exposure, we can seriously reduce the spread of COVID-19 and keep our school buildings open for the education of our students.”

For more information, visit olemiss.k12.in.us.

Local senior beats COVID-19

Lacey Hepler thought COVID-19 was a hoax.

“I was a skeptic,” she said. “I didn’t believe that this was a thing until she got it.”

Lacey’s grandmother, 73-year-old Fairmount resident Carol Hepler, drove herself to Marion General Hospital (MGH) on June 6 for what she thought was strep throat.

She was tested for COVID-19 and sent home with some medicine, but returned on June 10 with a fever of 102.7.

As Carol and her son David were waiting to be sent home from the hospital, she got a call from her doctor saying that she had tested positive for COVID-19. She said goodbye to her son and was admitted to the COVID unit.

“That’s all I remember,” Carol said.

Carol’s daughter, Ann Estep, is a COVID nurse in Tennessee, where Lacey also lives. From the time Carol was admitted, Ann communicated with the nurses and doctors at MGH, making decisions about Carol’s care.

“It was pretty scary because I know what was going on,” Ann said. “I’ve seen it.”

Ann said she wouldn’t have admitted it, but she worried her mother would not survive.

“She got it pretty early on before all the treatments had been approved,” Ann said. “But Dr. (Vahid-David) Sedaghat kept up with things.”

By June 14, Carol was sedated and put on a ventilator.

Ann had worked in Kokomo with Dr. Sedaghat, who made sure Carol was one of the first patients to receive a second dose of remdesivir and the first patient to get steroids.

The nurses FaceTimed with Ann daily so she could see what was going on in her room and let Ann’s voice be the one to wake her mother up after coming off of the ventilator.

While Ann was heavily involved with her mother’s care from afar, Lacey said she felt helpless being six hours away from her grandmother.

“I can’t even go there to hold her hand and sit with her, so I was scared,” she said. “My uncle, who does live 20 minutes from the hospital, couldn’t even be beside her.”

Carol said her condition was so bad she was told it was a good thing that she couldn’t remember what she had been through.

“I did everything but died,” she said. “My condition was that bad.”

After a week, Carol was taken off the ventilator and moved onto a two-week rehab period before returning home on July 8.

“When they told me she was going to be out on the 8th, I told my boss I was going to take a week off, and I was there by 11:30 that night,” Lacey said. “She’s probably the strongest woman in the world. She is very independent. It’s driving her crazy not to be able to go out and do things.”

Today, Carol is still on an oxygen machine, has worsened vision, cannot drive and has trouble using her right hand, she said.

“(COVID-19) changes your life,” Carol said. “You suffer. I’m pretty much still suffering with oxygen.”

Carol said she believes God and the doctors are what got her through it.

“I remember asking God to help me,” she said. “If I made it, then I made it for my kids, if not, then I would have been with my husband.”

To anyone who thinks COVID-19 is a hoax like she did, Lacey said, “It’s a scary process to go through. Fortunately, I was one of the lucky ones that got to see their grandparent get out of the hospital and have that parade. It takes three seconds to put your mask on. Just do it, so the people around you don’t get sick. Do your part.”

David said there were a few times he thought he would lose his mother, but he is happy she made it through.

“My mom’s always been a fighter,” he said. “(COVID-19) is not fake, and it’s not political.”

Carol said she wants to form a group of people who have survived COVID-19 to share their stories and learn about how the virus has impacted people differently. Email Carol at CHepler66@gmail.com to share your COVID-19 experience.

Grant County Distinguished Young Women's Scholarship 2020

More than a dozen young women in Grant County have the chance to receive a chunk of nearly $10,000 worth of scholarship money thanks to a local program.

Lori Baxter said the Grant County Distinguished Young Women’s Scholarship program is giving out 15 scholarships totaling $9,750 to local seniors who are attending college next year.

“We are one of the top programs in the state of Indiana,” Baxter explained as she thanked the community for their gifts.

There will be an informational meeting on Sept. 8 at 6:30 p.m. at the Sweetser United Methodist Church, 413 N. Main St., Sweetser.

Baxter said she is thankful the pandemic didn’t stop the organization from receiving generous gifts to make the program possible.

“We weren’t sure how we were going to do this year because everyone is taking hits – everyone is suffering in some way right now,” she said.

Baxter said she wants to see the scholarships go to two girls from each of the county’s high schools, so she hopes there’s a good turnout at the meeting.

“All Grant County High School senior girls and their parents are encouraged to attend,” Baxter said.

One of last year’s recipients was able to pay for about 15 percent of their total tuition, Baxter says.

The categories for the scholarship awards include the following: academics, interview, fitness, talent and written essay.

Anyone with questions is encouraged to reach out to Baxter at 765-661-2655.

“You don’t want this debt if you can avoid it,” she said.

Second Harvest plans tailgate distribution
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Second Harvest plans tailgate distribution

Second Harvest Food Bank will hold a tailgate food distribution Tuesday, Sept. 1 at 10 a.m. at Five Points Mall, 1129 N. Baldwin Ave. in Marion.

Distribution is while supplies last. No IDs, proof of address or need required. All are welcome, regardless of home county. Second Harvest is requesting that attendees only go through the line one time.

If you are walking up or coming via a vehicle too small to carry a load of food, please plan to arrive an hour after the tailgate starts.

For more information, visit www.CureHunger.org.

ISDH updates COVID-19 count

The Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH) Friday announced that 832 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 91,313 the total number of Indiana residents known to have the novel coronavirus following corrections to the previous day’s dashboard.

A total of 3,058 Hoosiers are confirmed to have died from COVID-19, an increase of 11 from the previous day. Another 219 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 ISDH and occurred over multiple days.

As of Friday, nearly 38 percent of ICU beds and nearly 84 percent of ventilators are available across the state. To date, 1,044,049 tests for unique individuals have been reported to ISDH, up from 1,034,746 on Thursday.

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

MCS reports additional positive case

Marion Community Schools reported Aug. 27 that a staff member who was last at Kendall Elementary School on Thursday, Aug. 20 has tested positive for COVID-19. There were no school-related close contacts identified, so no further quarantines were required, according to the school website.

Distinguished Young Women’s Scholarship Program

This program is open to all Grant County High School Senior girls. The informational meeting will be held on September 8 at 6:30 p.m. at the Sweetser United Methodist Church located at 413 N. Main in Sweetser, Indiana. All Grant County High School Senior girls and their parents are encouraged to attend.

The committee will be presenting 15 scholarships this year in total of $9,750 in the categories of academics, interview, fitness, talent and a written essay.

For more information, one may contact Lori Baxter at 661-2655.

Councilman questions mounting code enforcement complaints

The combination of being understaffed, dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and having to enforce the recent Neighborhood Preservation Ordinance has left the City of Marion’s Building Department extremely busy and unable to be more proactive in addressing issues, according to Building Commissioner Jerry Foustnight.

During Marion City Council’s Tuesday department budget review, Councilman Don Batchelor said he was concerned about the amount of code enforcement complaints that are stacking up and not being resolved quickly, noting he is aware of at least one complaint from 2019 that had still not been addressed as of this week.

A former code enforcement officer himself, Batchelor said he remembered barely being able to keep up with complaints when there were three code enforcement officers working, and for most of 2020, code enforcement has had an open position yet to be filled.

“Now how do we plan on keeping up or catching up and we still have an officer short ... ?” Batchelor asked. “If we are running short when people complain, it appears to us your job is not getting done... and it’s not an easy job. I’ve been there, done that, but I still feel that we need to do better.”

Foustnight said approximately 80 percent of all of the calls that come into City Hall come to the building department or code enforcement, and complaints are catalogued and addressed based on the order they are initially received. His department currently has more than 500 complaints it is working to address, and Foustnight said he encourages citizens to call the department to follow up if an issue is not being addressed in a timely manner.

“Also when the virus was here, code enforcement wasn’t working for a while and then we brought those individuals back earlier than other city employees. We brought those employees back to start addressing some of the issues because we felt like we were falling behind,” Foustnight said.

Sometimes ongoing issues are out of the building department’s hands once they go through the city court process, as the city cannot take immediate action if a judge rules to give a homeowner 30 or 60 days to remedy an issue, Foustnight said. Once that period of time is up, code enforcement officers return to the properties and take pictures to inform the judge whether things have been fixed.

“Now I will say the court system has been more favorable towards us lately on when we have a property that we can’t get cleaned up and those issues. We have been able to get a court order that the city can go in and clean that property up and actually charge that individual for the cost of it,” he said.

According to Foustnight, he has been unable to find a qualified applicant to fill the third code enforcement officer position and will be opening up applications again soon. He said the fact that individuals could make more money on unemployment when the federal government was offering an additional $600 per week most likely thinned his pool of applicants as well.

“And so I’m very sensitive to what you’re saying about we need to do more. I agree with you,” Foustnight said. “We need to be out here, we need to be more present, but we’re as present as we can be with what we have right now, Don. Once we get another individual that will open it up somewhat.”

Foustnight said he personally drives through the city each day taking note of properties and issues that need to be addressed. The inmate work crew and street department employees also help fill some gaps, picking up trash, weeding and cutting back overgrown trees, he said.

Council President Deb Cain asked if Foustnight believed three code enforcement officers were enough to handle the job.

“We’d always like to have more. Like anybody else, the more you have, the more you can get done,” Foustnight replied. “... I feel like once we get our third person in here and get him to a point where he can be out on his own, I think you’ll be seeing more of a difference also.”

In addition to currently being one officer short, Foustnight said one officer is working nearly full time solely on fulfilling the guidelines laid out in the city’s Neighborhood Preservation Ordinance, specifically language requiring rental property owners to register their properties with the city and pay a $5 registration fee.

“At the time of the ordinance – and President Cain was involved in that – I said at that time it’s going to be very very difficult for us to be able to do this,” Foustnight said of enforcing the ordinance.

Foustnight said approximately 2,400 of the 3,400 city rental properties have been registered so far, and 847 properties have been identified where the department could not find any information on the property owner. COVID-19 pushed the deadline from April 1 to July 1, and new notices and late fines are going out to those who have not registered.

The city has taken in $15,400 into the neighborhood preservation fund from the property registration, including $3,700 in late fees, Foustnight said. Additionally, he said each transaction requires a receipt which has taken up lots of time for the department’s secretaries.

“My secretaries spent hours and hours and hours of doing nothing but writing receipts for the properties,” Foustnight said. “So when we’re talking about our personnel, we’re very busy up there. And I’m not making excuses, we’re not here to make excuses, I’m just here to tell you the facts. The facts are we’re very busy.”

While his department does all it can to eliminate blight and address issues, Foustnight said the public also could take more responsibility for taking care of the city through small acts like putting trash into trash cans rather than littering. He said the majority of citizens already do this, but a small few do not.

“I spent $22,000 out of my budget just on dumpsters, picking up trash in the city. A month later, you go through there and you could not even tell we’ve been there,” Foustnight said. “I understand they deserve more, but I also think that maybe as an individual maybe they should be responsible for what they do also.”

The department budget hearings are scheduled to continue Monday and Tuesday, Aug. 31 and Sept. 1 at 6:30 p.m. in City Council Chambers.