July 14 Update From Porter County Health Officer

Presentation Of Porter County Health Officer Maria Stamp, MD, at July 14 Board of Commissioners Meeting:

Commissioners Good, Blaney and Biggs, thank you for inviting me to be here today to discuss the current state of the COVID-19 pandemic in Porter County. Your ongoing support is appreciated and critical to the success of our mission.

Our last address to the Board of Commissioners was March 17th. At that time, we were anticipating a bleak future where hospital beds would be in short supply, critical patients would need to share ventilators, alternative care sites would be needed, and critical frontline workers would go without protective equipment. This was a horrifying prospect for a Health Department and the community it serves.

Then came Indiana’s stay at home order. We hunkered down, navigated e-learning, cleaned our closets, worked from home, and entertained ourselves. We lost jobs. We felt isolated, anxious and depressed. But the collective sacrifice made great strides toward flattening the curve of COVID-19 and controlling the virus.

This, in combination with increased testing, allowed the stay at home order to be lifted incrementally. In May and June, our infection rates were at their lowest in 3 months.

We were able to preserve hospital capacity and obtain personal protective equipment.

Porter County had its lowest test positivity rate at the beginning of June. Since then, there has been an increased rate of positive tests across our region. A much larger portion of those new positive cases are in the younger age groups, under 30. Young people must understand that even though they may have few symptoms and no complications from COVID, they CAN spread the infection to their parents, grandparents and those they work with. Increased cases in youth may jeopardize the ability to open school for in class instruction.

Yet, still our hospitalization and death rates remain low.

Some wonder if the virus has changed, become more contagious, but less deadly. COVID-19 has not become less deadly. Currently, in many states, COVID-19 is overwhelming ICUs and death rates are climbing. Indiana’s hospitalization rate has increased some. Porter County’s hospitalization rate will also increase if we are not vigilant.

The mission of the Porter County Health Department (PCHD) is to promote and protect the health and wellbeing of the community. As such, the role of PCHD during the COVID-19 pandemic is to process surveillance, data collecting, and provide guidance for the community to advance the mission of the PCHD and ensure the spread of COVID-19 is as limited as possible.

The point is, our behavior today affects hospitalizations and death rates 3 weeks to 2 months from now. The ripple effect can be extensive.

It is known that face coverings can decrease the spread of virus from asymptomatic and mildly symptomatic COVID positive patients. We know that the risk of transmission when people are outdoors is much lower than when indoors. “Crowds” or any mass gatherings, however, whether indoors or outdoors, greatly increase the risk of disease spread.

The science is clear.

  • Keep distance, at least 6 feet when possible, even when outdoors.
  • Wear a mask in public, especially when social distancing is not possible.
  • Wash your hands frequently.
  • Do not leave your home if you are not feeling well.
  • Get tested if you are feeling unwell, have been exposed or are concerned that you may be infected.

Testing is available in Porter County, and we are working to improve availability of testing. Testing locations can be found on the Indiana State Department of Health Website, www.coronavirus.in.gov

We, the citizens of Porter County, wish to continue our success beating this pandemic. We want to enjoy the things that make life fun: going out to eat, visiting with friends and family, shopping, sports, and making a living. We need to do the right things which keep the virus from spreading and protect each other.

In Porter County, the expectation will be that those gathered in public wear face coverings.

Examples include but are not limited to:

  • Offices and factories where employees sit and work together in close proximity.
  • Retail establishments employees and shoppers.
  • For restaurants, it is already the law for employees to wear face coverings at all times while at work. Diners should mask up when entering and walking to their table.
  • For schools, parents, administrators and teachers will create the culture and expectation that face coverings be worn and can be tolerated in the learning environment.

I currently believe that the people of Porter County will cooperate for our collective wellbeing and safety. I have confidence that the people of Porter County can do the right thing. We will remain vigilant at the PCHD and advise the county leadership as the trends in our local data rise or fall.

Today’s takeaway is that we have a responsibility to work together to protect each other. Keep your distance. Wear your face covering. Wash your hands. Support one another. Persevere. Thank you.