As COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Grant County, the state has designated the county in the red portion of its color-coded system and local officials have implemented further restrictions.

Red counties have the highest level of COVID-19 community spread, 200 or more new cases within the county over the past seven days and at least a 15 percent positivity rate of those tested within the past week. According to EMA Director Bob Jackson as of Wednesday afternoon, Grant County had reported 522 new coronavirus cases over a seven-day period.

According to the state health department dashboard as of Wednesday afternoon, Grant County is one of 17 counties in the red. One county is in the yellow, and the remaining counties are currently in the orange, the second-highest level of cases on the scale.

Per the governor’s recent executive order, gatherings in Grant County are now limited to no more than 25 people, and events of more than 25 people must receive approval from the county health department a week prior.

In the daily Emergency Operations Center briefing Wednesday, Health Officer William David Moore said due to the red designation the county will also limit capacity at entertainment and recreation businesses to 25 percent of a building’s occupancy for the time being.

“It is my opinion that the current recommendations provided by the Indiana Department of Health are not capable of meeting the needs of Grant County and its citizens in slowing the spread of this virus,” Moore said of his reasoning for capping capacity at these businesses. “...Plans for social distancing, face covering requirement, cleaning and sanitization must be submitted to the Health Department for approval.”

Commissioner Mark Bardsley said now that the county is in the red, offices in the county annex building will only be accessible to the public by appointment. Individuals with appointments will meet county employees at the door on the first floor and will have their temperatures checked before entering, and masks must be worn at all times. The City of Marion recently shuttered City Hall with certain exceptions due to the increasing cases.

“The Grant County EOC will remain at Level III activation and will maintain situational awareness as to be prepared to take appropriate action to protect critical infrastructure and provide emergency services throughout this time of elevated risk,” Jackson said in the daily EOC briefing. “We advise all Grant County residents to limit gathering with people you don’t reside with and to take the necessary precautions to protect against infection and spread to others.”

Moore said the county has been in the red for weeks as far as the number of cases is concerned, but the positivity rate increased high enough this week to put the county fully in the red since both metrics are taken together when determining a county’s level.

Jackson said the local hospital and health care system is “very busy” but “holding their own” at this point. He said the hospital seems to be at a rate where there is a new patient admitted for every one discharged.

Moore reiterated that most COVID-positive individuals without severe symptoms requiring further medical attention can return to public life after 10 days of isolation. Close contacts who have been exposed to the virus are still asked to quarantine for 14 days because it can take up to that time for the virus to manifest itself in the form of symptoms.

Moore said one reason the virus continues to spread rampantly is because those who have been exposed to COVID-19 are not following strict quarantine protocols and instead may return out in public before 14 days are up if they aren’t feeling any symptoms. He said 40 percent of those infected report no symptoms at all and can be spreading the virus if they do not properly quarantine.

“If we fail to [quarantine] then we’re going to fail to contain it,” Moore said. “Controlling this virus requires us doing more simply than taking care of ourselves. It’s recognizing that we have a responsibility to one another, and if we exercise that responsibility to one another we can contain this communicable, this infectious condition. If we only get concerned about me, me, me, me, me, then we’re going to continue to spread it to people.”

Bardsley said the Optum testing center at the Faulkner Center had been testing about 150 people per day, but recently they are testing closer to 300 people a day due to the increased spread in the community. While at one point Grant County had a COVID mortality rate of around 9 percent, Bardsley said currently the county reports about a 1.5 percent mortality rate.

Bardsley noted CDC and Johns Hopkins University research has shown communities can reach “herd immunity” from COVID-19 when about 70 percent of the population has either received a vaccine or has been infected with the virus and developed antibodies to fight it. Moore said the state of Indiana is at about a 5 percent infection rate, so the community needs to continue to be vigilant for the long haul with mask wearing, social distancing, hand washing, isolating, quarantining properly and other guidelines until a vaccine can be widely distributed to the general public.

Jackson encouraged local organizations, businesses, churches and more to implement continuity of operations plans if they do not already have them in place. These plans outline how an organization can continue to run despite leaders or other individuals being isolated or quarantined due to COVID-19.

“We learned a lot about how to deal with a pandemic for as long as we’ve been dealing with it now. So we’re just asking folks to revisit those plans, apply what you’ve learned,” Jackson said. “Apply those learned lessons, and really it just helps your operation moving forward.”

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