LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) - The Tippecanoe County Health Department is keeping a close eye on the county's COVID-19 numbers right now. Tippecanoe Health Officer Dr. Jeremy Adler says county cases are on the rise.
The county's 7-day percent positivity rate has risen to 6.5%. Two weeks ago, that number was at 2.5%. The goal Dr. Adler has said at each of these meetings is to keep the county below the World Health Organization recommendation of 5%. The last time we were above that number was the week of August 19th with a 5.6%.
Dr. Adler attributes a big part of the rise in cases to the return of Purdue students. He said about two-thirds of recent positive cases in the county are related to the university.
A community member at today's briefing asked why the health department doesn't create a graph showing the case numbers in the county versus numbers coming from Purdue specifically. He said Purdue students are tested randomly, and people in the community are not, which creates differences in what the data means. Tippecanoe County Commissioner Tracy Brown also voiced support for seeing the data broken down in such a way.
Dr. Adler said he is open to looking at creating such a graph in the future, but he is firm in the belief that Purdue students are part of this community.
"Purdue is not separate or isolated from the rest of the community and certainly Purdue students, faculty and staff certainly interact with the rest of the community," he said.
Dr. Esteban Ramirez from the Protect Purdue Health Center said there are four Greek or Co-operative living houses on a large-scale quarantine. Two were released from more strict quarantine status on Wednesday. However, he said there is one house where they are seeing an increase of cases. No further details such as the name of the house or the amount of cases were shared. As we previously reported, the university is not sharing specifics about these communal living cases because of "privacy."
The Tippecanoe County Health Department also did not announce any new changes to the countywide mandate on bars and restaurants on Wednesday.
The mandate on restaurants, bars and nightclubs went into effect on August 14th. The original mandate included capacity restrictions, no bar-top service and all food and a midnight curfew.
At the last meeting on September 9th, Dr. Adler announced that bar top service could be allowed with social distancing. But on Wednesday, Dr. Adler said Tippecanoe County's numbers are trending up, which is why there are no new changes to the mandate. He emphasized that this mandate is about being proactive.
"When we look at what's happened at other university communities, what's happened around the country and around the world with transmission in restaurants and bars, we're trying to stay one step ahead of that," he said.
Mayor John Dennis did not comment on this decision. But Mayor Tony Roswarski and Commissioner Brown urged the health department to look at extending the midnight curfew to 1 or 2 a.m. They argue this mandate is hurting neighborhood bar's ability to survive, especially because they are losing business from late-night workers at local factories.
This is the first time local leaders have openly, and respectfully, disagreed with decisions the Tippecanoe County Health Department is making. Mayor Roswarski voiced his support for the county mandate when it was first announced.
They acknowledged all the tough decisions the health department has had to make over the six months, but they would like to see more steps towards easing restrictions on food and beverage establishments.
"We are all committed to protecting public health, but that means protecting public health and the public's financial health as well," said Commissioner Brown. "You don't have one without the other."
"I personally don't believe adding an hour will make any kind of difference in case situation, but it can make a lot of difference in keeping people's business alive," said Mayor Roswarski. He also added that this mandate is impacting the mental and physical health of the owners of these establishments trying to keep their livelihood afloat.
Dr. Adler said he would like to see our county cases trending down rather than up before making any sweeping changes to the mandate. The next health department COVID-19 briefing will happen at 1 p.m. on October 7th.