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County talks COVID-19 disaster plan amid talks with Indiana National Guard

Although the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Grant County remain steady at three, county officials are planning for the possibility of a severe outbreak to ensure the county is best prepared to protect the public.

Grant County Health Officer Dr. William David Moore said he expects the number of positive cases to increase in the coming weeks as it has in other parts of the country and world, according to his remarks at a press conference Wednesday, and he said Grant County EMA Director Bob Jackson has been in touch with the Indiana National Guard to formulate several plans for dealing with a worst-case scenario.

Moore said they are talking through how the county would go about setting up temporary facilities in available buildings or tents should the need get to that level in the county, but they are not at that point yet, he reassured.

The better the community is at following social distancing orders of remaining 6 feet apart in public over the next few weeks, the sooner Grant County will get through the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, according to Jackson. He encouraged the public to postpone minor medical procedures like teeth cleanings and other doctor’s appointments, and boiled his advice down to “stay home, stay safe.”

“If a house doesn’t catch fire, I don’t have to go in and get you,” Jackson said. “If you don’t get sick and we don’t have to treat you...that takes a big burden off of our healthcare workers that are already being pushed pretty hard and that’s not going to let up anytime soon. So if we can maintain those efforts that’s a big deal.”

Marion General Hospital is a 99-bed facility, according to MGH representative Sarah Evans, and she said the number of open beds is constantly changing due to admitting and discharging people every hour and the hospital continuing to treat non-COVID-19 related illnesses. In order to help coordinate their efforts, Evans said MGH also reports availability to the state so regional hospitals can assist each other.

During this all, MGH is continuing to monitor its use of personal protective equipment (PPE), like masks, to best meet the needs of patients, Evans said. As of Tuesday reports received by the Chronicle-Tribune, MGH said they have an ample supply of ventilators and PPE although the hospital is looking into alternatives in case those supply levels change.

“(With) ventilators, there are different devices that can be used to manage the symptoms of patients and so it depends on what that specific patient’s needs is to what kind of device they need and how we can utilize those,” Evans said. “And we have some that are multifunctional.”

Jackson added that the EMA’s main focus right now is securing PPE to protect healthcare workers and protect the healthcare system.

“The masks are the critical ones. That need is being met. The covering material is continuing to be met, and those are the two big ones, the protective gear, hazmat gear and masks and then after that then the need shifts to making sure we have enough respirators,” Moore said. “Those are coming from limited sources, but most of them are coming from stockpiles our state department of health has.”

Anyone in the county that has items like gloves, masks, gowns and more should email foods@grantcounty.net for more information on how to donate those items properly, Grant County Health Department Public Health Nurse Amber Turner said. Moore noted Jo-Ann Fabric has kits available for the public to put masks together and donate to places like Marion General Hospital (MGH).

To help the local healthcare system, Evans said anyone experiencing what could be symptoms of COVID-19 should first call the MGH call center number at 765-660-6999 so the proper treatment precautions can be implemented.

Dr. Dean Ricks, MGH medical director of laboratory services, said that COVID-19 is very serious for vulnerable populations of elderly and others with weakened immune systems, but stressed that the “vast majority” of those infected with the virus will experience mild symptoms like a cough and runny nose. Evans added that those with minor symptoms can self-manage their symptoms at home, reducing the stress placed on healthcare systems.

Jackson said EMA, the health department, local law enforcement, EMS and fire departments are all meeting daily at 9 a.m. to figure out action items and next steps for the day. He said he is also in contact with the state.

“The next thing that we are stepping up is all the jurisdictional folks, all the mayor and township trustees and town boards, we’ll start meeting with them regularly too just to make sure everybody has what they need,” Jackson said. “And if there’s a need in one part in the county and the other part can help, we know where we can shift resources around.”

Turner said the health department is working with Indiana State Department of Health and CDC criteria to notify people who have been in close contact with the three confirmed COVID-19 cases in the county.

“If you have been in close contact with one of our lab-confirmed cases, you will be notified by the local health department of possible exposure,” she said. “We want to settle the panic and fear in the community just for symptoms if they’re having and people thinking the person next to them has coronavirus and they’re not aware. We will be in contact with you if we do have a lab-confirmed case.”

Turner said people should continue to stay home as much as possible, wash your hands and social distance from others at least 6 feet apart when going out in public.

While EMA is working with schools, churches and food pantries to distribute food, Jackson said food is available and the supply chain is working well, so people do not need to stockpile items or clear out store shelves.

Marion Community Schools Superintendent Brad Lindsay said principals and teachers are working on offering optional enrichment activities to help keep learning going during the time of school closures. He encouraged parents of all county schools to check the schools’ websites for the latest information on food distributions, eLearning and more.

IWU professors, students adjust to online instruction

Although Indiana Wesleyan University (IWU) students have returned home for the remainder of the semester due to COVID-19, their learning has not stopped.

Douglas Daugherty, a professor and the dean of the School of Social & Behavioral Sciences & Business, said faculty and students have been flexible and persistent in the midst of uncertainty.

“Everyone is pulling together with acceptance, kindness and grace,” Daugherty said. “This is a very fluid situation with many unknowns for all of us.”

With the recent changes, Daugherty said the students are missing out on community worship in chapel and the usual opportunities for socializing.

“They’re missing the opportunities to connect with faculty, mentors and peers over coffee, as well as various scholarly activities, (such as) research, presentations and guest speakers,” Daugherty said. “To their credit, our students are remaining pretty engaged. They really want to continue their education.”

The students are looking for opportunities to connect in some manner, according to Daugherty, while experiencing sadness related to the changes, distancing and loss of athletics.

“It’s unsettling for everyone. But our students are resilient,” Daugherty said. “We are a resilient community that leans on the Lord in difficult times.”

Timothy Steenbergh, a psychology professor, said he is remaining aware of the difficulties students experience as they return home.

“Students are faced with the challenge of having to establish new rhythms as they reconnect with family back home and simultaneously manage the demands of their academic work,” Steenbergh said.

The campus environment was created to support learning, and as students return to their homes, Steenbergh said it is up to them to create a learning environment there.

“While this can be challenging, so far, it seems like students are doing well, and I’m seeing high levels of engagement in the learning activities we’re offering,” Steenbergh said. “What’s impressed me most during this time has been the creativity and grace exhibited by our students and faculty as they navigate these challenges together.”

Teachers have worked together to share resources and stay connected, Steenbergh said.

“One of our faculty members made a special trip into the office to teach another one how to use some of the newer technologies to engage students,” Steenbergh said. “Several faculty in our Division have been sharing creative ideas over email.”

Without students present in classrooms, Steenbergh said teachers are missing the facial cues and nonverbal communication.

“I’m used to watching the faces of my students and using that to gauge their understanding and interest,” Steenbergh said. “Those cues from the physical environment are absent or harder to access in a virtual encounter, so it’s requiring faculty and students to communicate more intentionally with the technologies we have.”

Rob Dawson, the dean of the division of Pre-licensure Nursing, is experiencing the recent changes from the perspective of a professor and a medical professional.

The spread of the coronavirus has impacted the nursing students’ ability to learn in the hospital and clinic setting.

“In nursing, the clinical facilities have blocked off students for the safety of the patients in the hospitals, and they are conserving masks and gowns. So we are doing lots of simulations.” Dawson said. “Nursing students have learned how to protect themselves, but also have a deeper understanding of the situation.”

Dawson said faculty and students have been creative and have teamed up together.

“It has been fun and exciting to see them explore new learning modalities,” Dawson said.

Although the students have been highly engaged, Dawson said they are experiencing high amounts of anxiety.

“They are curious about what the next steps are and how long this will last,” Dawson said. “Students are experiencing high levels of anxiety, similar to those we are all experiencing.”

Students in the music division experience unique challenges due to the nature of their classes.

Marc Wooldridge, professor of percussion and music theory at IWU, said that some of his students do not have the percussion instruments at home that they are learning to play.

Despite the difficulties, Wooldridge said his students are showing strong engagement and an excellent response to the changes.

Tammie Huntington, a voice and opera professor in the Division of Music, said her classes are meeting at their regular times for video conference calls, and her one-on-one voice lessons are taking place over Skype.

“So far, (Skype) seems to provide the best sound quality,” Huntington said. “There is nothing that can equal all being in the same room, with a live accompanist, working with the nuances of the voice in the same acoustics, and the instructor being able to coach them as they sing.”

The biggest differences Huntington has noticed are students wearing “comfy” clothes and their parents wandering in and out of the rooms.

“That’s different,” Huntington said. “I feel a bit like my teaching is suddenly under direct parental scrutiny, though it’s all been very friendly so far.”

Huntington said students have been very discouraged about having to leave their friends and professors in light of the faculty cuts announced in the fall.

Seniors especially are missing their senior recitals, final projects, plays and concerts.

“That’s really, really tough,” Huntington said.

Despite challenges and grievances, Huntington said students and faculty members are working hard.

“The IWU students are troopers,” Huntington said. “So far, I see them digging in and working hard to make the adjustments and do what is necessary, even amidst the disappointment of having to leave a community they love.”

Spring sports
Spring athletes still hopeful for a season

Though the sports world has come to a screeching halt over the past two weeks, the Indiana High School Athletic Association along with area coaches and athletes are all still holding out hope of having at least an abbreviated spring sports season.

While that question of if remains to be answered, the date Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb has targeted for students to return to school on May 1 is also when spring sports might begin, six weeks after the usual start of spring practices.

The IHSAA has made some adjustments to its practice policy which states in part that athletes must have 10 practices completed before being allowed to compete. That number has been lowered to five practices, but an abbreviated season likely also means a concentrated season, more competitions in a shorter time.

With that in mind, many local coaches have developed practice plans for their athletes to try and follow while adhering to the state ordered, stay-at-home mandate.

“The message I left them was, if we do have a season, what type of season you have is still in your control if and when we come back,” said Oak Hill’s track and field coach Paige Brunner.

Through social media, texts and emails, Brunner has been able to monitor some of the work his athletes are doing and has generally been pleased with what he’s seen. He also added that for most of his athletes, other than perhaps his distance runners, doing a lot of training away from school is something that is new to most.

“I didn’t want to get in a situation where I gave kids a schedule,” Brunner said. “We just wanted to put something out for them that said look, if you’re a sprinter of a jumper, the goal is can you do x amount of things four days a week. Distance kids here’s your mileage.

“I emailed some kids personally that need more specific details in their workouts,” he continued. “Like a lot of schools we’ve signed out a hurdle or two, some wickets, some shot puts. I know our throwers have been able to get together a few times at one of the other throwers houses because they have a large basketball court to throw off of and we gave them a routine to do there.”

Part of the workout routine for Eastbrook’s athletes is being administered through e-learning by weight class teacher Jeff Liddick, who is the strength and conditioning coach for all Panther athletes.

Liddick said the message to his students before schools shut down was two-fold.

“The big message on our last day of school was to keep up on all your e-learining work because that could determine eligibility next fall,” Liddick shared. “Then the other big message was stay active. Whether it’s getting up and doing some sort of body weight workout or picking up some tree limbs around the house, just keep yourself active.

“We’ve had one week of e-learning and we had four assignments. Of those four assignment, two of them were active body-weight workouts,” he added. “The first one was pretty simple and the second was a little more difficult. The kids were saying through email how much they appreciated it and how it got them out of bed and got them moving. … There’s not a whole lot of back and forth conversation with the kids, but from what I see on social media and the two assignments we had, its seems like they are doing their best to stay active and stay on top of their other school work.”

The spring sports season includes boys and girls track and field, baseball, softball, girls tennis and boys golf.

Liddick said there was ways to be creative with strength training simply using an athletes body weight as a means to maintain and even build muscle mass.

Body-weight workouts is also something Mississinewa baseball coach Mike Scott has asked his players to do at home to try and stay conditioned. But baseball and softball players also have a unique skill set that needs to be sharpened prior to a season, particularly pitchers, and its something that concerns Scott even in a regular-length season.

“I worry from the pitcher’s stand (point) more than anything. That’s what’s going to be the most difficult,” Scott said. “Every year I have a low pitch count for our pitchers anyway. That’s on a normal season. It’s not worth it to me to injure a kid or risk the potential injury. Everything that we’re going through is just going to be magnified so much more.”

Scott has also passed on some baseball-specific drills to his players that can be done at home to help sharpen their necessary skills.

“We’ve tried to communicate things, a home a drill series, a thing we call wall-ball, which is nothing more than throwing a tennis ball against the wall,” he said “That goes through our mechanical series of how we teach to field a ground ball. Things like that that kids can do at home.”

“If we get the green light come the first of May it’s gonna be a sprint to the finish,” Scott added. “We need to be as prepared as we can but understanding all of us are in this boat together. When the season starts we’re all probably going to be pretty similar.”

ISDH reports 14 Hoosier deaths, 477 confirmed COVID-19 cases

ISDH reports 14 Hoosier deaths, 477 confirmed COVID-19 cases

INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH) Wednesday reported 115 new positive cases of COVID-19 have been diagnosed through ISDH, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and private laboratories. That brings the total number of Hoosiers diagnosed to 477 following corrections to the previous day’s total. Fourteen Hoosiers have died.

A total of 3,356 tests have been reported to ISDH as of Wednesday, up from 2,931 on Monday.

Visit www.coronavirus.in.gov for the latest numbers and information. Cases are listed by county of residence. Private lab reporting may be delayed and will be reflected in the map and count when results are received at ISDH.

Election Commission approves changes for June 2 primary

INDIANAPOLIS — In response to recommendations from Gov. Eric Holcomb, Secretary of State Connie Lawson and the leadership of Indiana’s major political parties, the Indiana Election Commission has issued an order making it easier for Hoosiers to vote in the June 2 primary election. Holcomb previously moved the primary from May 5 to June 2 due to COVID-19.

The complete order detailing each change is available at https://www.in.gov/sos/elections/2404.htm.

The Commission’s order included the following changes, which will apply to the June 2 primary only:

Moves all election dates by 28 days.

Avoids reprinting ballots and other forms that have the May 5, 2020 date.

Allows everyone to cast an absentee ballot by mail without having a specific reason to do so.

Grandfathers applications already received for an absentee ballot, which did not state an excuse permitting the person to vote by mail.

Permits county election boards to conduct meetings electronically rather than in person.

Encourages counties to appoint medical professionals to act as traveling absentee boards to help voters confined in medical facilities to cast a ballot.

Permits family members and caregivers of a confined voter to personally deliver and return a ballot.

Allows county election boards to consolidate voting locations and vote center sites and to take spacing measures to ensure the safety of voters.

Loosens restrictions on students who wish to serve as poll workers or absentee board members.

Allows county election boards to begin expeditiously counting ballots at 6 a.m. on Election Day.

Advises county election boards that election results must be determined by 3 p.m. on June 12.

Eligible Hoosiers can register to vote online, check their registration status and request an absentee ballot by visiting www.Indiana Voters.com.

Governor announces more COVID-19 measures

INDIANAPOLIS — In a continuing effort to slow the spread of novel coronavirus COVID-19, Gov. Eric Holcomb has announced the following additional efforts:

The Indiana State Department of Education (DOE) and Family and Social Services Administration (FSSA) have teamed to encourage school corporations in Indiana to open schools on a limited basis to provide child care services for emergency workers and others who are working to keep communities safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Wednesday, DOE provided similar guidance to school corporations to care for the school age children of essential workers. The guidance provides specific steps for schools to take to open school facilities as well as how to maintain a safe environment.

Among precautions for school district officials, the steps include collecting child health records, allowing extra time for deep cleaning, prohibiting staff who are in high-risk categories from providing the care and keeping groups of students in separate areas of the building.

The Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) has spoken to more than 1,000 businesses and economic development agencies in the last five days about ways to continue supporting the state’s economy as well as its front-line COVID-19 pandemic response workers.

More than 135 companies have been fully vetted as being able to help, including RV and auto manufacturers that are switching lines to help make shields, masks and other Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

Multiple companies – including Subaru, Heritage Group and Summit MMI – have come together to donate thousands of PPE. Restaurants and companies have donated thousands of gloves.

Office of Community and Rural Affairs announced Community Development Block Grant funds may be redirected to assist with COVID-19 needs based on guidance from the United States Housing and Urban Development. This program could help fund projects such as mobile testing areas or economic assistance packages for small businesses.

More information may be found at in.gov/coronavirus/ and https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html.

Jonesboro meeting by telephone conference

The Jonesboro Board of Public Works and Safety and the Jonesboro City Council will be meeting weekly beginning Tuesday, March 31. The meetings will be by telephone conference. If you are interested in joining in on the call, please contact the Clerk-Treasurer at 765-677-2014. Jonesboro wants the public to be able to participate and ask any questions or voice any concerns they have.

The Board of Works call will begin at 6 p.m. and the City Council meeting will begin at 7 p.m.

Marion Utilities altering operations

Marion Utilities stated Wednesday that COVID-19 has no impact on water quality or supply or solid waste pick-up services. However, the utilities have made a few changes to operations.

Marion Utilities is open for business but closed its Customer Service lobby and Transfer Station starting Wednesday until further notice. Hours of operation will be 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Customers are encouraged to use the drive-thru, kiosk and online payment system at www.marionutilities.com during this time.

Payments can also be made over the phone by calling 765-664-2391 opt. 2 (during business hours) or opt. 4 (after hours).

If you need to speak with a Customer Service Representative, please call 765-664-2391, opt. 3, between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., and leave a message.

Marion Utilities is also temporarily suspending termination of water service for non-payment.

Additionally, no recycling services will be available at Marion Utilities during this time.

M-G cancels next meeting

The Madison-Grant school board meeting scheduled for April 6 has been canceled. The next regularly scheduled meeting is set for April 20.

MPD chief dispels stay-at-home order rumors

Local law enforcement will not be pulling over every car they see on the road or people seen going for walks without cause during the stay-at-home order, according to Marion Police Department Chief Angela Haley.

Haley said there have been rumors circulating both that the governor’s order means police can’t conduct traffic stops at all and conversely that they will be stopping everyone. The truth, she said, is that police will continue to patrol as usual and conduct stops with the same criteria they always use of traffic violations and criminal activity.

“The Marion Police Department is not pulling people over simply because they are out,” Haley said. “We’re continuing normal operations. The governor’s order does not provide blanket coverage for citizens to commit traffic infractions or criminal offenses. Enforcement activities are continuing.”

The only exceptions to normal operations regard Holcomb’s order for law enforcement to not cite or charge individuals for driver’s licenses, driver’s permits, vehicle registrations and handguns that have been or are set to expire during the period of the declared public health emergency, Haley said.

Haley asked the community for patience when calling into county dispatch centers, as callers are additionally being asked screening questions regarding if they are presenting symptoms of COVID-19 or have been in contact with anyone that is more likely to have the virus. She also encouraged people to check up on family, neighbors and others in need.