By Dan Spalding
WARSAW – While testing numbers are reasons for encouragement, a health official is warning that the school year, with its many precautions, is going to be difficult.
First the good news:
Statistics from the Kosciusko County show the number of positive tests in the county is falling. In the past four weeks, the numbers have fallen from 97 to 60 to 32 to 34, according to information provided by Teresa Reed, a communicable disease nurse for the county health department, who spoke at a news briefing Wednesday at Warsaw City Hall.
“I like the way those numbers are trending,” Reed said.
Additionally, Reed reported that only 1.1 percent of the county population has tested positive and that the positivity rate is currently 5.6 percent, which is lower than two adjacent counties, Elkhart and Marshall.
“This is not the pandemic I was afraid of in March,” Reed said. “Thank heavens our death rate is only 12. I was afraid we would have hundreds in two months.”
But the beginning of the school year with area school districts choosing to restart in-person classes, Reed predicts the community will struggle as schools work to test, isolate those who test positive for the virus and quarantine those close to anyone closely connected to those who test positive or fall ill.
Reed confirmed that several students within the school district in Kosciusko County have tested positive and that protocols established to respond to such situations are already being implemented.
She declined to say how many students have tested positive but stressed that that kind of situation was expected, that the students were infected outside of school and that they have no indication that transmissions were occurring within the schools.
She also warned of the social media firestorms that could pop up as word spreads about apparent positive cases.
In fact, that’s what began happening hours after she spoke when talk of possible cases in the Wawasee School District began to spread on social media.
Reed explained the terminology and expectations the health department and schools are using as they do contact tracing and try to prevent any spread of the virus.
Anyone who is sick with COVID needs to be isolated for 10 days.
Anyone who has been exposed to a sick person needs to quarantine for 14 days because it can take that long for symptoms to show.
If somebody in quarantine then shows symptoms, they move into isolation for 14 days.
In some cases involving a quick test result, in some families, the sick person can be back in school before others who were exposed can return, Reed said.
The quarantine process can be tricky, she said, for families where the sick person cannot be entirely isolated because the quarantine extends for 14 days after the most recent exposure.
In the case of small children whose parent is sick, their quarantine would last until their parents are out of isolation and then continue for a 14-day quarantine.
“We realize that’s a rough standard and that that’s difficult for our school families, but right now, to open safely, this is the action we have to take,” Reed said.
Another complicating issue is the return of the flu season and the difficulties in assessing whether students or staff have COVID.
“I think it’s going to be really frustrating sorting out all of the respiratory illnesses,” Reed said.
Last year was a rough year with flu illnesses, and officials are urging people to get a flu shot.
The county health department is offering flu shots but is requiring appointments ahead of time to limit the number of people waiting in close proximity in the waiting room. To schedule an appointment, call (574)-372-3515.
Reed also announced that the health department will track the level of illness that students suffer. Those will be broken down into five categories ranging from asymptomatic to severe symptoms.
That kind of information, she said, will help in determining whether schools are safe to remain open.
They will also track the levels of transmission within schools, she said.
Reed noted that while the health department lost one employee who returned to college, the county recently hired two more staffers to assist in the expanded role the department has seen in recent months.