By Leah Sander
WARSAW — Local officials expressed more optimism on Wednesday, Feb. 17, about the declining numbers of COVID-19 cases during a COVID-19 press conference at Warsaw City Hall.
The event was open to in-person attendance for the first time in months as city buildings have reopened to the public.
Warsaw Mayor Joe Thallemer and Bowen Center CEO Kurt Carlson were present in person, with Kosciusko County Public Health Officer Dr. William Remington, Communicable Disease nurse Teresa Reed and Kosciusko Community Hospital CEO Jae Dale attending virtually.
“I think we are all very happy to be continuing a little bit of a downward trend, without getting too cocky about it, if you will,” said Thallemer.
“It’s important to continue to do what we’re doing. It’s important to make sure we understand how important the vaccinations are and how safe they are, how streamlined our process in our community has become. We’re very proud of what the health department has done in setting up the vaccination clinic.”
Reed provided statistics, saying there’s only been about 17 cases daily as of late in the county.
“That trend is also happening throughout the state,” said Reed. “Recently Indiana has seen several days where we were less than 1,000 cases and positivity is now down to 5% for the state.”
Kosciusko County remained in the yellow category on the state’s color-coded map, which is the second-lowest category, when the map was updated at noon on Wednesday. The county’s positivity rate is at 4.69% among people tested, which is a slight uptick from last week.
In response to an InkFreeNews question, Remington and Reed said they are not aware of any cases of the new variants of COVID-19 in the county yet.
Reed also said the health department’s COVID-19 vaccine clinic is running well.
“There are vaccines available. We are not having a shortage at this point at all,” said Reed. “We have plenty. There are appointments available this week for those who fit the qualifications.”
Remington reiterated how safe the vaccine is.
“It’s a real game-changer, very safe vaccine,” he said. “It does not alter your genetics forever. There’s nothing hidden in the vaccine to impact your life forever. Very effective. We’re very fortunate to have it.”
Carlson shared his own example of being vaccinated.
“By the way, all I had was a mild headache, no fever, no other symptoms,” he said. “Other people respond differently.”
Carlson also touted the Bowen Center’s vaccination hotline.
It’s supported by the city of Warsaw and the K21 Health Foundation.
The number is 574-347-4256, and people may call it to get more information about vaccination and learn how to get vaccinated.
Hours are 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Friday.
Carlson noted the hotline is available in Spanish as well as English. That’s helped as the state’s registration website is only offered in English and not in Spanish.
InkFreeNews asked officials if they knew what percentage of the county’s population had no interest in receiving a vaccine even if they qualified and what groups who qualified now were most receptive to getting it.
Remington said he had no statistics on the first question, but that he had “heard thrown around in national discussions a 50% acceptance rate.”
“I don’t know how valid that number is quite frankly,” he added. “I would say in my small slice of the world in my private practice I’m averaging better than 50% interest in the vaccine, but that’s very informal.”
“I have a number of Hispanic staff and there is culturally some resistance to vaccinations,” said Carlson. “We’re trying by having flyers, brochures, frequently asked questions in both Spanish and English and trying to get those widely distributed to persons in the workplace or the restaurants or places of worship to encourage that. And so that may be a population that needs some additional encouragement.”
“Anecdotally, I think we’re somewhat north of 50% and somewhat south of 75%,” said Thallemer. “I think Dr. Remington mentioned the exuberance of the higher age groups, the more at risk populations. I think socially, they’ve felt so isolated, they’re just so happy to get something that’s going to offer them hopefully an end to this crazy thing.”
He said he hoped that energy was spreading to the elderly’s family members.
“We’ve got a local group getting together Friday to talk about vaccinations in our county and I know just the education and trying to demystify the vaccination and really encourage those to get it is probably going to be a focus of our conversation,” he said.