Tippecanoe County officials urged residents to wear face masks to protect themselves and others as Stage 3 of Indiana's reopening plan begins -- now two days earlier than planned, on Friday, May 22 -- and as the county reported its third death from COVID-19. The Indiana State Department also reported 331 cases in Tippecanoe County Wednesday, a one-day increase of 18.
Tippecanoe County Health Officer Dr. Jeremy Adler, citing a Fairbanks School of Public Health study that reported 44.8 percent of Hoosiers with COVID-19 were and are asymptomatic, said that statistic showed why face coverings are important.
“When I wear a mask in a public setting, I am helping those around me -- just in case I happen to be one of those individuals who is carrying the virus but displaying no symptoms,” Adler said. “In turn, when other people around me are wearing masks, they are protecting me, in case they are an asymptomatic carrier of the virus.”
Stage 3 allows gatherings of up to 100 people, using proper social distancing. IU Health Arnett Chief Medical Officer Dr. James Bien -- who said the hospital’s current capacity for COVID-19 patients is stable -- also said he was concerned about the issues that might arise as Stage 3 coincides with better weather, Memorial Day, and graduation celebrations in the coming weeks.
He said people hosting such gatherings needed to make hand sanitizer available to their guests, and try to have masks on hand for visitors who show up without one.
“This is going to be a very high risk time for our region as we get back to trying to engage and open up, that could -- a week or more from now --put more and more pressure on the most vulnerable in our community and on the healthcare facilities trying to meet their needs,” Bien said.
“As groups get larger, of course social distancing becomes more difficult, but it is something that we all need to take very seriously,” Adler said. “And if people are organizing social gatherings of that size, they really need to put a lot of thought into the setting of the gathering and what arrangements can be made so that social distancing can be optimized.”
Adler said discussions were underway regarding county Fourth of July celebrations. Stage 5 -- the final stage of Indiana’s reopening plan -- allows gatherings of 250 people or more using social distancing, and permits fairs and festivals.
“We hope to have a decision about that sometime in the next week,” Adler said.
Adler directed county residents who need guidance on how to construct face masks to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which provides instructions for sewing face coverings or using bandanas and t-shirts.
Stage 3 also allows for the reopening -- with social distancing -- of spaces such as playgrounds, tennis courts, basketball courts, and playgrounds. Adler said masks should also be worn in those settings.
The health department will be issuing guidelines regarding recreational sports leagues “in the near future”.