By Dan Spalding
WARSAW — A technical snafu led to a hot mic moment and some controversy prior to a COVID-19 news conference at Warsaw City Hall Wednesday morning, Oct 13.
The city regularly live streams the COVID-19 news conferences, which are automatically shared on the city’s Facebook page.
But on Wednesday, the livestream on Facebook began unexpectedly about 10 minutes earlier – at about 8:21 a.m. – while officials were privately discussing related topics in a teleconference before the media was invited into council chambers where the press conference is held.
Mayor Joe Thallemer, Kosciusko County Health officials and others routinely talk about developments in the pandemic.
But Jodi Anderson Cox, an area resident who tuned into the Facebook event early, contends she heard the county health administrator, Dr. William Remington, discuss the idea of changing numbers to impact the state’s color-coded map that the school relies on to determine when to switch to a mask-optional policy.
The city then deleted the early portion of the video because it was a private discussion, saying there was a technical error, but Cox continued to raise the issue in comments that can still be seen on the city Facebook page.
Thallemer, who unofficially runs the meetings, said he looked back at the snippet after hearing complaints.
“I can tell you point-blank that there was no suggestion of manipulating data,” Thallemer said. “There was absolutely zero insinuation that there would be manipulation of the data.”
With slightly improving statistics related to the pandemic, officials are anticipating the county will move from orange to a less severe yellow. Warsaw School officials have said they would rescind the mask mandate and go with a mask optional policy after the county is in the yellow category for two consecutive weeks.
Thallemer said that during that short portion of time, they did discuss the school district’s eventual move to a mask optional policy and raised the idea of seeing the mandate extended until conditions further improve.
Remington also noted that the decision on the school district’s mandate is in the hands of the school board.
Remington expressed concern over the county’s low vaccination rate, which is around 44% and did discuss the idea of changing metrics.
Similar discussions did not come up during the news conference.
Thallemer said the short video would be posted on the city’s website late Thursday morning. He also said they would try to restore some comments that were deleted. The video will be part of the city’s live stream service that can be found near the bottom of the website
Remington has urged schools to embrace a mask mandate that would, under state guidelines, allow schools to reduce the amount of quarantining required when a close contact tests positive for COVID-19. He applauded Warsaw Community Schools for re-establishing a mask mandate in September. No other area school districts have followed the recommendation.
A small group of parents and students initially protested the move, but school officials say students have embraced the current temporary policy.
Also participating the early discussion via a teleconference was county commissioner Cary Groninger and Bowen Center CEO Kurt Carlson.
The state updates its color-coded system weekly on Wednesday and the county remains in the orange category for the next week.
Messages seeking comment left with Groninger and Remington were not immediately returned.