COVID-19 cluster reported at group home for special needs children

At least three other group homes in Tippecanoe County have been hit with COVID-19.

Posted: Dec 1, 2020 4:27 PM
Updated: Dec 1, 2020 6:29 PM

LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) - T.C. Harris School in Lafayette is the site of a COVID-19 cluster.

The school confirmed in a statement to News 18 that at least 22 staff and nine students have tested positive for the virus. The cases reported to the Tippecanoe County Health Department have ocurred since October.

T.C. Harris provides long-term residential and day school services for children with special needs. At least three other group homes in Tippecanoe County have been hit with COVID-19, says health department Aministrator Khala Hochstedler.

"Whether it be a jail or a long-term care facility or a group home, once a case gets into that congregated living facility, it's very hard to slow down the spread," she says. 

Hochstedler says the health department has received several complaints about T.C. Harris. She has requested a state inspection because the school is licensed by the Indiana Department of Education.

"People are asking us to come in and do an inspection, but that's not our role at the health department since we don't oversee them," she says. 

One of those complaints came from Matthew Ferry, a former employee at T.C. Harris. Ferry says a bulk of the school's cases have been reported over the past four weeks. 

"We don't have enough testing to be able to routinely test staff and students," he says. "There's not an ample amount of PPE and cleaning supplies and we're just understaffed."

The school is also limited to using third-party labs for testing because it's not considered a long-term care facility.

"As recently as yesterday, I talked with someone at work and they said that the company we use has told us that we can't even send them any more of our tests because they can't process them," he says. "We've bogged them down with too many as it is."

T.C. Harris provided the following statement to News 18:

The health and safety of our students and employees is our top priority. Throughout this pandemic, we have approached this incredibly serious situation with the utmost care and precaution, at the same time balancing the needs of the highly vulnerable populations in our care.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 global health crisis, we have continued to be in frequent communication with local health officials and following the guidance of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to protect our students and our staff members with approved COVID-19 procedures and protocols.

Like many organizations deemed essential we remain focused on maintaining the health and safety of our employees, while meeting the important needs of our residential students, which include routine and consistency of schedule.

The following precautions and operational practices were implemented to our educational and programming routines to minimize risk, including:
- Mandated mask wearing for all employees;
- Decreased building transitions;
- Increased remote learning to limit contact;
- Implemented isolation units;
- Implementing work-from-home policies;
- Increased cleaning and sanitizing processes; and
- Designated easy-access storage for PPE for all employees.

Lastly, we have frequent communication with our employees through mass employee emails, Town Hall Calls / Zoom calls, team meetings, and a weekly news bulletin with facility updates.

Since March, 22 employees and nine residents at T.C. Harris School & Academy have tested positive for COVID-19. Of these confirmed cases, three employees and three students remain in quarantine status.

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