Chesterton Tribune



Porter County Health Department offers guidance for safe events, works with schools

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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.

“They’re thinking 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 for events.”

Athletic directors 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.”

Some directors 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.”

Nursing Fees

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 changes.

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.

Other proposed 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.”

The Board unanimously approved forwarding the proposal to the Commissioners with a favorable recommendation.


Posted 8/5/2020




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