By Dan Spalding
WARSAW — Local officials are urging people not to let their guard down against COVID-19 as Indiana and much of the nation begin to see the third spike in cases.
While Gov. Eric Holcomb’s face mask mandate is set to be downgraded on April 6, health officials are imploring people to wear their masks, continuing to use social distancing and avoid large crowds.
While numbers associated with positive tests, hospitalizations and deaths have been falling in Indiana for months, officials say they’re seeing a small bump in cases that is worrisome.
Teresa Reed, the county health department’s communicable disease nurse, warned of a repeat of the post-Christmas influx of cases in Kosciusko County.
“I’m asking Kosciusko County that as we come into this spring break, I want everybody to do the same thing you did then – If you’re sick, I want you to get tested and stay home.”
She said she’s watching for significant changes in county statistics and how those compare to counties that are embracing a mask mandate.
New concerns were underscored Wednesday by the state health department when it switched Kosciusko County and neighboring Wabash County back to a yellow status in the metrics used to determine restrictions. Kosciusko had been included in blue with the lowest possible restrictions for weeks until the change.
While city hall and county offices are open to the public, no further loosening of local policies was announced during a regular-scheduled news conference on Wednesday at Warsaw City Hall.
Warsaw Mayor Joe Thallemer and Kosciusko County Commissioner Cary Groninger joined health officials in calling to continue precautions.
County Health Officer Dr. William Remington said he suspects the new upswing is due to new variants that are apparently more contagious than the original COVID-19 at a time when the public is struggling with fatigue from the pandemic.
“I don’t think it’s time to let our guard down,” Remington said.
At the same time, he added, “If we think of a forest fire, I can’t imagine there is enough tinder on the forest floor to allow that to happen.”
“We’re not out of the woods yet,” Thallemer added.
Remington urged residents to set aside the semantics of a mask mandate or advisory and just stick with it for a few more weeks.
While he declined to offer a date, he said he thinks six to eight more weeks of diligence would set the stage for a better future.
Those concerns come just a day after Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky warned of “impending doom” and President Joe Biden urged states to embrace mask mandates.
For those in charge of indoor gatherings, Remington asked they continue to consider encouraging masks and social distancing.
Kurt Carlson, CEO with Bowen Center, which has been administering COVID-19 tests at the county fairgrounds, said they’ve seen an increase in the number of tests sought and number of positive cases. In recent weeks, they were seeing a little more than two dozen tests per week grow recently to about 50 a week.
He said he thinks part of that is due to increased travel.
More than 99,000 tests have been administered in the county.