The Porter County
Health Department has been working hard to guide local organizers to host
safe events and coordinating with schools on procedures for reopening and
athletics, Porter County Health Officer Dr. Maria Stamp reported Tuesday at
the Health Board’s meeting.
As part of the
Governor’s extended fourth phase of the Back on Track Indiana Plan, the
department has been tasked with approving events of more than 250 people.
Stamp said Sheila Paul, coordinator of the department’s food service
division, has been working hard on that, though it’s a “daunting task.”
Some events have
been declined for either lack of thoughtful planning or because the
department feels the event cannot take place safely at all. One group that
was denied even wanted to use the Expo Center for an event they estimated
would draw 10,000 people over the course of three days.
“What are they
thinking?”, Board member Dr. Patrick Fleming asked.
its outside, so it’s safe, or it’s a huge venue, and people are just going
to be milling around,” Stamp said, adding that she thinks many people are
still misinformed about how easily viruses spread.
Paul said the
department isn’t yet making personal visits to ensure compliance with the
approved plans, though Board president Martin Moller said it sounds like the
department may have to start after Board member Dr. Derek Gasper said he saw
a close-knit crowd at a concert in the downtown Valparaiso plaza recently.
“We’re not always
out there at some of these events we’ve never looked at before. I agree we
should probably come up with a way to check those, of course that’s
manpower,” Paul said. She said many organizers of public events are nervous
about enforcing the rules they lay out in their plans. “They’re not used to
that. They want everybody to come to their event and have a good time and
keep coming to their events,” she said.
Paul added that the
venues that normally work with the department have been proactive, but she’s
sure some events are being missed, like family reunions and birthday and
graduation parties, which are not exempt from the Governor’s order, though
they may be private. Restaurants continue to get in-person visits for
complaints. Deep cleanings and closures at restaurants, however, are not
always at the County’s say so. Stamp said they’re “finding out every day
about places that are closed”, but some never bring up a positive case.
Stamp said she and
the departments nurses have also been working closely with schools on ways
to decrease risks, identify positive cases, and contact trace.
Stamp said she’s an
advocate of making safe school reopenings a priority over opening bars or
allowing events. “It’s a community effort to have school start, I believe.
That’s my standpoint. That’s what I’m pushing for. If for some reason we are
not safe enough to have school, I have a problem with us being safe enough
from many of the schools in the Duneland Conference met with Stamp Tuesday
to discuss safe athletics, and Stamp said it was productive. “It was a good
meeting. We talked a lot about risk, and we talked about benefits, and some
questions were very specific.”
wanted to know what “close contact” means in games and practices. “We don’t
have answers to those questions, unfortunately,” Stamp said. “We know that
your risk increases if you’re face to face with someone and huffing and
puffing in each other’s faces. But how much time playing soccer together is
‘close contact?’ We don’t know.”
Stamp said the
department was able to give the directors better guidance on spectators,
although plans will have to be highly individual. Concessions will have to
sell only prepackaged foods and control lines. Schools will need to consider
how they can visually cue people to sit apart, and how much distance can be
maintained. “They need to think of ways to make their spaces safer,” Stamp
said. “It’s a lot different in Boone Grove’s basketball fieldhouse than in
Valparaiso’s football stadium.”
In other business,
Director of Nursing Connie Rudd presented a plan to raise fees for a host of
health department nursing services. Moller clarified that all county
departments have been tasked with finding ways to charge reasonable fees for
their services, the Board of Commissioners will have the final say on
Rudd suggested the
department up its charge for Tuberculosis blood tests that are currently
offered at cost for $20 to $30. Regular two-stage TB tests would remain $15,
but testing would no longer be free for those under 18. She proposed
charging $10 per person/student due to an increase in the cost of the
solution required for the test.
changes include a $10 lab fee for blood draws, charging $2 for copies of
vaccination records, and upping the cost of full panel testing for HIV and
other STDs, which has been only $10 since the department started offering it
in 2012. Rudd said the increases “would help bring in a little more revenue,
but not to the fact that it breaks the bank for most people.”
Fleming was still
concerned about deterring low-income or uninsured people. Moller agreed it’s
a concern. “I look at that and think its not much money, but I’m, not
working a minimum wage job,” Moller said.
Rudd said nurses
are always willing to work with the patients. “If they kind of back off when
they find out and think ‘Oh, I don’t have the money’, we say, ‘Is there
anything you can pay because we would really like to do this for you’”, Rudd
said. “I don’t think there’s too many people we actually turn away.”
unanimously approved forwarding the proposal to the Commissioners with a