TIPPECANOE COUNTY, Ind. (WLFI) - Local health leaders are concerned about a recent up-tick in coronavirus cases in Tippecanoe County.
Cases in Tippecanoe County had been going down in the weeks after the county's biggest spike in May. However, according to numbers shared by the Tippecanoe County Health Department at its weekly press conference, there have been 219 new cases in the past 28 days. Ninety-six of those where reported in the last seven days.
Health Officer Dr. Jeremy Adler said about 22% of the county's cases are in the Latinx community. He said the health department is reaching out to local Hispanic businesses and churches to spread educating messages about protecting yourself from the virus.
There is no state or federal definition of a person who is recovered from COVID-19. So Dr. Adler said the health department has come up with its own way of classifying who is recovered from the virus. It must be 28 days since the person was diagnosed with the disease, the person cannot be hospitalized and their symptoms must be resolved.
Based on the criteria, the health department said 296 of the county's 640 people diagnosed with the disease are considered recovered.
Dr. Adler said Tippecanoe County's rate for testing positive is 5.1%. He said that is lower than the state and federal average. And the World Health Organization says 5% or less is the target goal.
Also, Tippecanoe County's state-run testing site will move to Durgan Elementary School on July 6th.
Indiana was set to move onto the fifth and final stage of the Reopen Indiana Plan on Saturday. Governor Eric Holcomb announced on Wednesday that the state will be moving to a modified "4.5 stage."
Representatives from both Franciscan Health and IU Health Arnett say they are concerned about the rise in numbers.
"I think when that plan was established there was perhaps optimism that we wouldn't have this background level of disease persisting and so here we are and we do," said Dr. Jim Bien from IU Health Arnett. "Absolutely the recommendations that Dr. Adler has made about mask wearing and hand sanitizing need to be double downed on."
Dr. Daniel Wickert from Franciscan said the number of patients they are seeing all around has gone up.
"If you look around us, it's gone way up," he said, referring to other state's numbers. "For us to say that we will be the bastion, that would be great. We hope it's the case, but it does concern us."
Dr. Adler said it is unclear at this at this point how many cases have been brought back to Tippecanoe County by people going out of state for vacations.
Several Indiana counties are resorting to required face masks in all public settings. The question was posed to local leaders if this is something Tippecanoe County is considering. Dr. Adler said they will monitor data to see if mandatory mask wearing needs to be implemented in the county.
Lafayette Mayor Tony Roswarksi said it's something to be heavily considered. He said with people just now starting to get back on their feet in paying rent, bills and medical needs, we can't go backwards in getting local businesses and factories back up and running.
"If that means that we have to go to a mandatory mask policy to ensure that that doesn't happen, then that's something that is definitely on the table because that is a small price to pay for having economic shutdown re-occur in the community," he said.
West Lafayette Mayor John Dennis said it will take collaboration from everyone to keep the state on track.
"Local governments, state governments, our local medical personnel, our media, we're all on the same page here," he said. "We're all basically communicating the same message and it's that kind of collaboration that will help us keep our numbers down."
That message becomes even more important as the community prepares for Purdue students to return in August.
The bulk of Tippecanoe County's cases remain in the 20 to 29 age range. Both mayors and the health department have had meetings with Purdue's task force working to make a safe return for students. Dr. Adler said Purdue's plans for on-campus are strong, but it's controlling what happens off-campus that is concerning.
"What will happen when people go away from campus is the big question," he said. "That's where we have to trust that people are going to do the right things and they are going to listen to what experts are telling them, they are going to take the COVID-19 pandemic seriously."
The university released its Protect Purdue plan in June. Anyone entering a Purdue building must wear a face mask when social distancing isn't possible. Also Purdue will have extensive testing and contact tracing programs in place, as well as optional online course options.
The health department said from now on its weekly press briefings will move to bi-weekly meetings. The next update will happen on July 15th.
Graphs below provided by the Tippecanoe County Health Department.