FOUNTAIN AND WARREN COUNTIES, Ind. (WLFI) - Coronavirus numbers are spiking in Fountain and Warren Counties. The percent positivity rates in both counties are at least four times higher than what is recommended by the World Health Organization. Leaders at the Fountain Warren Health Department say some local elected leaders are not helping the situation.
"We need to realize that this is not coming to end anytime soon," said Dr. Sean Sharma, who is the Health Officer for Fountain and Warren Counties. "We need to be looking forward with consistent, supportive messaging all the way through March of 2021."
The last time we reported on coronavirus in Fountain and Warren Counties, much of the virus's impact on these rural communities was a mystery. Seven months later that impact is being felt.
"Within the past week in Fountain and Warren County we have seen a significant increase in cases," said Dr. Sharma. He said over the first 200 days of the pandemic, Fountain County had about 130 cases, which is much less than one new case per day. However, over the past five days they have had 70 new cases, which distributed evenly is 14 new cases per day.
Warren County currently has the lowest coronavirus case number out of all the counties in Indiana. Dr. Sharma said at one point, Warren County had the lowest number of cases per capita. However, he said we shouldn't take that for granted. Switzerland County has the second lowest case number with 75 cases as of Monday, October 12th.
Dr. Sharma said the positivity rate for unique individuals is the most important figure to watch. The World Health Organization says communities need to stay at or below a 5% positivity rate. According to ISDH on Monday, Warren County's 7-day percent positivity rate for unique individuals is 19.1%. And in Fountain County, that number is 27.8%. Below, screenshots from the ISDH Coronavirus Dashboard of Warren and Fountain County's numbers on Monday, October 12th.
He said it's not about moving the goal post on where COVID-19 ends. He said all the data is important to consider when analyzing the situation, but that we need to be able to move as the pandemic moves.
"Even if you are testing negative or not at all, the numbers are much higher than what we are seeing," he said. "That doesn't mean we all have to be scared, but it does mean we have to take reasonable precautions."
A strain on limited resources has been a concern since the beginning of the pandemic.
"We have two ambulance services in Fountain County, we have a health department that is serving two counties with only five people," he said. "In Williamsport, we have a 16 bed hospital, which is Indiana's smallest hospital."
Ascension St. Vincent Hospital in Williamsport announced on Monday that it is restricting visitation. The south clinic that is in Veedersburg is also moving to tele-visits only this week.
Dr. Sharma had nothing but praise for the local schools throughout the counties that are taking precautions to keep students and staff safe. Covington Community School Corporation closed in-person learning on Monday after an employee tested positive. Superintendent Kevin Smith posted a notice on the district website on Monday. It says in-person learning will resume next Monday following sanitization and cleaning.
"It's the actions of up to 50% of the county that have impacted our health care, our schools and individuals who are going on to sporting events and trying to compete at regional and state levels that may not be able to do that any longer."
But what is causing the recent increase in cases?
"There has been lack of compliance, lack of respect for the disease, lack of masking, lack of consistent social distancing," said Dr. Sharma "This is prevalent in the community, It's prevalent in our small business and it's also prevalent in our elected leaders."
Kathy Walker is the president of the health department board. She has lived in the community for several decade.
"This community can really come together and help one another in a hard time," she said. "For example, if a farmer has a heart attack or illness, people will come together and bring the harvest in. Unfortunately we have not seen that with COVID."
She said there has been a lot of negativity on social media from the community and some from leadership. She said the board is working to get on the same page with local leaders.
"On the board, we are one voice, we are all on the same page with this, and are working to our best ability to help improve the situation where there is more compliance," she said.
The Fountain County Clerk had originally said that masks would not be mandated at election polling sites. However, that has changed and poll workers are now required to wear masks.
Two Warren County Commissioners shared a news article in July on Facebook that was about FWHD advising people to wear masks indoors. They both shared the article emphasizing that this was only an advisory and was not a mandate saying, "the health department does not have the authority to make such a mandate."
As we've previously reported, Governor Eric Holcomb has extended the statewide mask mandate despite moving Indiana to Stage 5 of the Back on Track Indiana plan. A move Dr. Sharma does not think was a good move.
"I think the message was unfortunate, unfortunate timing," he said. "I think as an elected leader, we need to support Indiana and Hoosiers as we are going through this pandemic. We will continue focus not only on educating the public, but also elected officials like our clerks and our commissioners and explain why these protocols do apply to Fountain County, they do apply to Warren County."
FWHD has implemented additional travel advisories for people who live in Fountain and Warren Counties. The department is recommending to people to avoid high risk, recreational, non-essential and non-emergent travel outside of the Fountain-Warren area.
The overall message from the health department: Stay vigilant against COVID and take it seriously for the sake of your loved ones and the community as a whole.
"Coronavirus is dangerous, it is deadly but it's not complicated," said Dr. Sharma. "We've known what we need to do since late March and the fact that we're not doing it is arrogant and irresponsible. I encourage people to remember that the people who work at your local health department are also members of your community and your actions impact them. They impact the nurses, the staff, the students in your schools, the people working in your hospital and health care clinics. If that matters to you, then take some small steps to make smart choices."
We have reached out to the Warren County Commissioners, Fountain County Commissioners, Mayor Crain of Covington and Mayor Roderick of Attica. News 18 asked the following question: "Is there any message the board would like to send to the community about remaining vigilant about the disease? Or is there a different sort of message the board would like to share?"
Warren County Commissioner Brian Jordan is the only one we have heard back from so far. He replied quote, "My question is why have you not enquired about how low our rate was up until 2 weeks ago?" We will let you know if any other leaders have a message for the community.
You can get tested for COVID-19 at the Fountain Warren Health Department. However, you need to set up an appointment to do so. Click here to learn more.