Grant County remains as one of five hotspots across the state for COVID-19 community spread as Thanksgiving nears, causing public officials to caution residents as families prepare to celebrate the holiday together.

Grant County is in the red-level advisory yet again this week, which indicates high levels of new COVID-19 cases and community spread. As of Sunday, Grant County’s COVID-19 positivity rate nearly doubled, meaning about 40 percent of all test results received that day showed a positive result.

At least 231 individuals from Grant County have died from the virus, according to Grant County Health Department data, and officials are urging the public to follow guidelines in order to avoid possible government intervention.

“If we don’t get out of the red fairly soon, we’re probably going to have to become more restrictive in some of our meetings and gatherings and maybe even county buildings as well,” said commissioner Mark Bardsley.

Restrictions that may be implemented could include required masking within county buildings, reimplementation of appointment-only policies and the locking of doors to reduce the number of visitors, Bardsley said.

Some private businesses and organizations have already begun to shut their doors to the public and require appointments for curbside help or virtual assistance.

Bardsley designates the next two weeks as the indicator for how COVID trends will unfold in Grant County, dictating them as “critical” for evaluating the virus.

Bardsley expressed how he holds hope that the pandemic will decline in the near future, but he recommends that community members take precautions seriously throughout the holiday season, especially when meeting with those outside of one’s family.

“You know your families and if you’ve been sick and if you’ve been in certain areas, but when you’re talking about church gatherings or when you’re talking about community gatherings with the parades coming, just be cautious,” said Bardsley. “If you are concerned, wear your mask. Make sure that you use those precautions and disinfect and wash your hands.”

Bardsley highlighted how hospitalizations remain steady with 14,068 hospital beds currently being utilized for COVID patients across the state of Indiana. However, only 16-17 percent of intensive care unit (ICU) beds are being used for COVID patients, which is fairly low according to Bardsley. He said many patients are experiencing only a two to three day turnaround once admitted due to infusion and other drugs that have been developed to fight COVID.

Marion Community Schools (MCS) superintendent Keith Burke stressed the continuation of the mask mandate for visitors, staff and children for school and events.

“We have more COVID cases right now than we’ve had in quite awhile, but I can tell you that our quarantines are down because either students are vaccinated or masking up. That has been able to give them a little bit of leeway on the quarantining,” said Burke. “Even though our cases are up, our actual number of quarantines are way down from last week.”

Burke urges parents to continue being vigilant and encouraging students to wear masks. He stated that even though MCS is encouraging maximum capacity at events such as basketball games, all visitors will be required to wear masks.

MCS will also be implementing e-learning days to help with the transition to school during the holiday season as a precaution to limit quarantines and contact tracings. Burke recognized that other corporations have shut down specific schools before for e-learning, but MCS will be requiring e-learning for the entire district.

“As we’ve had this uptick in COVID, we just want to ensure that everyone is safe and secure. This will give us nine days of separation for our students so when everyone comes back, we should be good to go. We shouldn’t have to quarantine people. We should be in a great state,” said Burke. “We understand that it’s difficult on parents when we have to miss school days, but we really feel this is the best thing to do. We’ve talked to Dr. Moore and he feels really strongly about it.”

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