As the number of COVID-19 cases in Tippecanoe County passed the 1,000 mark Wednesday, local officials said following Indiana’s new statewide mask mandate and continuing social distancing measures are key to stopping a future surge.
“We have -- just as the rest of the state has seen, and many parts of our country have seen -- an increase in the incidence of cases of COVID-19,” said Tippecanoe County Health Officer Dr. Jeremy Adler. “And it is extremely important for all of us to look at this data and to really act on this data, and take the appropriate measures so that we can get this curve to move in the right direction.”
The Indiana State Department of Health reported 24 new coronavirus cases in Tippecanoe County Wednesday, for a county case total of 1,019.
Indiana’s mask mandate currently tasks health departments with enforcement through “education”; a criminal penalty was removed from the mandate. West Lafayette Mayor John Dennis says the city’s Neighborhood Resource team has not yet issued any citations under the city’s local mask ordinance, which includes a series of fines for non-compliance.
“Just a lot of verbal warnings,” Dennis said. “You would be amazed at how many people say, ‘Well, what if I don’t?’ And it’s always nice to be able to say, ‘Then you’re going to get a ticket. And you know what that means.’ And they all understand that. It’s sort of a soft hammer approach.”
As both local school corporations and Purdue University prepare to reopen next month, Adler said closing schools and returning to remote learning would depend on evidence of significant community transmission of COVID-19.
“I would imagine that if our community experiences some sort of significant surge that would necessitate consideration of school closures, we would probably not be the only county in Indiana to be experiencing that,” Adler said. “It would probably be something that would be happening in our surrounding counties, possibly even through our entire state.”
Adler said he did not have a specific number or percentage point in mind for recommending area school closures.
“Because we monitor the trends in all these data points, and there are so many possible permutations of that data that would indicate that things are reaching a bad point or a crisis point,” Adler said.
Those data points include the number of new, confirmed COVID-19 cases, the percentage of positive COVID-19 tests, the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations (including the number of patients in intensive care and on ventilators), the number of visits to area emergency rooms for respiratory illnesses, and the number of COVID-19-related deaths.
IU Health Arnett Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jim Bien said he believes children returning to school for in-person learning is important -- but the community had to be “all in” on public health measures to control the spread of coronavirus.
“The basic stuff we all have to be on board for, or the plans that Purdue is setting up -- the plans that Tippecanoe County schools, Lafayette schools, West Lafayette schools are setting up -- are not going to be sustainable, because the disease burden will increase to the point that we have to pull the plug on those types of gatherings,” Bien said.
Purdue’s first day of classes is Aug. 24. Tippecanoe School Corporation, Lafayette School Corporation, and West Lafayette Community School Corporation are currently scheduled to begin on Aug. 20.