Chesterton Tribune



Porter County Health Officer urges the young to take C19 threat seriously and everyone to wear a mask including in school

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In her first address to the Porter County Commissioners since March 17, Health Officer Maria Stamp reported on Tuesday, July 14, that citizens' self-quarantining during the lockdown went a long way to flattening the COVID-19 curve in the county.

"We lost jobs," she said. "We felt isolated, anxious, and depressed. But the collective sacrifice made great strides toward flattening the curve of COVID-19 and controlling the virus. This, in combination with increased testing, allowed the stay-at-home order to be lifted incrementally. In May and June, our infection rates were at their lowest in three months. We were able to preserve hospital capacity and obtain personal protection equipment. Porter County had its lowest test positivity rate at the beginning of June."

Since then, however, the test positivity rate has risen sharply, driven by new cases among the younger demographics. "A much larger portion of these new cases is in the younger age groups, under 30," Stamp noted. "Young people must understand that even though they may have few symptoms and no complications from COVID, they can spread the infection to their parents, grandparents, and those they work with. Increased cases in youth may jeopardize the ability to open school for in-class instruction."

Stamp also observed--as the Chesterton Tribune has been reporting for some weeks--that the surge in new cases has not yet been accompanied by increased hospitalizations or deaths. "Some wonder if the virus has changed, become more contagious but less deadly," she said. "COVID-19 has not become less deadly. Currently, in many states, COVID-19 is overwhelming ICUs and death rates are climbing. Indiana's hospitalization rate has increased some. Porter County's hospitalization rate will also increase if we are not vigilant."

"The point is," as Stamp put it baldly, "our behavior today affects hospitalizations and death rates three weeks to two months from now. The ripple effect can be extensive."

The Health Department's "expectation," accordingly, is that those gathered in public wear face coverings. "It is known that face coverings can decrease the spread of the virus from asymptomatic and mildly symptomatic patients," Stamp said. "We know that the risk of transmission when people are outdoors is much lower than when indoors. Crowds or any mass gatherings, however, whether indoors or outdoors, greatly increase the risk of disease spread. The science is clear. Keep distance, at least six feet when possible, even when outdoors. And wear a mask in public especially when social-distancing is not possible."

Where to wear masks:

-- In offices and factories employees who sit and work together in close proximity should wear masks.

-- In retail establishments shoppers and employees alike should wear masks.

-- In restaurants, where employees already are required to wear masks, diners should as well, when entering or exiting the establishment.

-- In schools, parents, administrators, and teachers should "create the culture and expectation that face coverings be worn and can be tolerated in the learning environment.”

"I currently believe that the people of Porter County will cooperate for our collective well-being and safety," Stamp concluded her remarks. "I have confidence that the people of Porter County can do the right thing. We will remain vigilant at the PCHD and advise the county leadership as the trends in our local data rise or fall. Today's takeaway is that we have a responsibility to work together to protect each other. Keep your distance. Wear your face covering. Wash your hands. Support one another. Persevere.”

Health Department to schools Masks should be worn by students and teachers

Porter County Health Officer Maria Stamp is urging school districts in the county to adopt COVID-19 policies which include the mandatory wearing of masks by all faculty, staff, and students throughout the school day.

“A comprehensive plan for school to re-open safely needs to include the requirement or expectation that face coverings be worn throughout the school day by students and staff,” according to a letter of communication to school superintendents released on Friday. “It is reasonable to schedule mask-free time during the day, perhaps at recess or during very quiet study or test time, but not during general class time where discussions cause teachers to speak out to the back row or students turn to look at those responding to questions. The small number of situations where face coverings might be removed should be defined if possible to limit confusion. We can create the expectation that masks will be worn in school and can be tolerated during the school day.”

“Consistent wear of masks in our schools, along with rigorous social-distancing, may be the only way schools successfully re-open for significant stretches of time during the 2020-21 school year,” Stamp emphasized.

Stamp was responding to what she called “great concerns among both parents and staff” that most school re-entry plans “are worded such that the use of face coverings is up to individual teachers or just recommended.’

Stamp added that the "culture of wearing masks will be more difficult to develop in the younger classes and may be near impossible in certain settings, e.g. some SELF school classes. "However," Stamp said, "the growing body of scientific evidence is tipping toward the benefit of wearing masks when in group settings like schools."

"We are seeing that children in day camps where masks are mandatory are finding it possible, even among younger ages, to learn to wear masks most of the day without ill effect," Stamp said. "To those who say that masks are touched and become soiled during the day, I would respond that the protection afforded from respiratory droplets significantly outweighs the risk of disease spread from touching the mask, especially if hands are frequently washed. Also, as students become more accustomed to wearing face coverings, they will be touched and adjusted less frequently.”


Posted 7/20/2020




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