Local officials plan for COVID-19 response

Thursday, March 12, 2020

With officials from the Putnam County Health Department, DePauw University and Putnam County Hospital leading the way, local leaders are preparing for a potential COVID-19 outbreak.

On Wednesday, more than 60 people representing local healthcare facilities, first responders, schools, elected officials and business owners took part in a teleconference to discuss precautionary measures to ensure the community is prepared for a potential outbreak related for COVID-19.

As of Thursday afternoon, the county had not had a positive case of the 2019 novel coronavirus, though nearby in Hendricks County, two cases were confirmed earlier this week. Statewide, the Indiana State Department of Health has confirmed 12 total positive cases in nine different counties.

With an eye toward being prepared for an outbreak here, these local medical professionals shared some of their expertise as well as what is still being learned about he virus.

Vicky Trusler, PCH infection preventionist, provided those on the webinar with background information related to the human coronaviruses. Although COVID-19 is similar to the other types of coronaviruses, it is unique in many ways and more is being learned each day.

COVID-19 is spread by close person-to-person contact from droplets from a cough or sneeze, which can get into a person’s mouth, nose or lungs. Close contact is defined as being within approximately six feet of another person. 

Trusler went on to explain that 80 percent of people with COVID-19 have a mild form of the disease (cold- or flu-like symptoms). The population most likely to become seriously ill are those over the age of 60 and those with pre-existing health conditions.

PCH also gave detailed information to the group outlining necessary steps the community would need to take in the event they need to seek testing for the COVID-19 virus.

These include: after confirmation from ISDH, call ahead to 301-7300, stay in your vehicle, wait for a staff member to provide you with personal protective equipment, they will be in personal protective equipment gear as well.

Staff will take the patient to the designated testing room, the specimen will be collected and the individual will be asked to return home to self-isolate if they are not experience serious symptoms.

Additionally, Putnam County Hospital is taking additional steps when it comes to patients and visitors.

Restrictions for visitors are now posted at the entrances and throughout the building. Visitors will be asked screening questions as they enter the hospital and patients will be questioned. No patients will be turned away.

PCH currently has a contingency plan to have staff screening visitors as they come in.

The hospital, which often hosts meetings for community boards and other groups, has suspended all such gatherings.

Health Department representatives Dr. Robert Heavin, Lisa Zeiner and nurse Sara Burnett explained that the health department has either emailed, mailed or hand-delivered education material to all area schools, health care facilities, law enforcement agencies, EMS and long-term care facilities.

The health department is going to continue to be the first line of defense for our community. It will be notified by ISDH first of any suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 in the community and will remain in daily contact with ISDH.

Health department officials will also continue to work with various community stakeholders as COVID-19 monitoring continues.

DePauw University representatives from the Critical Incident Management Team and DePauw Health medical director Dr. David Harsha addressed the group by giving an update on the students and faculty of DePauw.

DePauw has canceled in-person classes after Friday, with classes resuming via e-learning on March 30.

Additional information on DePauw can be found in a separate story or by visiting depauw.edu/preparedness/.

Ivy Tech has also gone to an e-learning model.

No local school corporations have formally canceled classes or gone to e-learning.

During the South Putnam School Board meeting Wednesday evening, Supt. Bruce Bernhardt told the board the administration was staying in contact with state and local authorities and monitoring the situation.

In a Monday email to parents, Greencastle Supt. Jeff Hubble said the school was implementing its protocol for a pandemic illness, which includes more intensive cleaning, working with students on better personal hygiene, and monitoring health conditions of absent students and staff.

North Putnam called an emergency board meeting Thursday night to discuss COVID-19.

On Thursday afternoon, Gov. Eric Holcomb announced that school corporations will be provided with a 20-day waiver of the required 180 instructional days for use as needed for the remainder of the academic year.

Putnam County officials are meeting on Monday in an 11:30 a.m. joint meeting involving the Putnam County Commissioners and Putnam County Council.

County Emergency Management Agency Director Tom Helmer said he and 911 Director Dave Costin are putting their heads together on what a county plan will look like, whether that includes the plan for county employees or a county-wide response.

“We’re reviewing our plans and making new ones,” Helmer said. “We’re reaching out to the Department of Health and other counties to find out what they’re doing.”

Helmer also encouraged people to communicate and to use some common sense.

“The biggest thing for people to know is, if they’re sick stay home and stay away from large crowds,” Helmer said.

The City of Greencastle is also grappling with how a COVID-19 response needs to look. Mayor Bill Dory said job No. 1 is continuing to provide essential services to residents.

“Our essential services are our police, fire, water and wastewater,” Dory said. “So we’re asking those employees to take extra care and precautions.”

Beyond this the city has a working document based on information provide by ISDH and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Additionally, city employees are encouraged to avoid business-related travel.

“We’re following the same information that everyone else does, just ratcheting it up several degrees based on what we do,” Dory said.

The city is also encouraging residents who need or would like to limit their exposure to utilize alternate methods of paying bills, such as online at or by calling the utility office.

With City Hall being an old bank, there is also always the opportunity to pay bills at the drive-up or night drop.

“Especially for our senior citizens — a lot of them like to get out and are regulars here at the window,” Dory said. “But given where we’re at, it may be worthwhile for folks to think of alternative means, if they would.”

The mayor also emphasized that things are likely to keep changing.

“People should just watch the media and we’ll make announcements as things change,” Dory said.

The city also has links to the CDC and ISDH on both its website and Facebook page. Some of the relevant information will also be put on Cable Access Channel 3.

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    Maybe the city could put out a memo for people to stop being such morons that there is NO toilet paper, disinfectant, bleach, or hand sanitizer at Walmart.

    Apparently I gave the people of Greencastle too much credit before entering the store last night, as I thought common sense would surely be found in this little town.

    But perhaps not.

    It's a viral outbreak, folks. It happens. It is not the end of the world.

    Wash your hands. Stay home if you don't feel well. Don't lick the doorknobs.

    -- Posted by dreadpirateroberts on Fri, Mar 13, 2020, at 8:31 AM
  • dreadpirateroberts : Common sense? I was at Walmart and the shelves did have toilet paper but people were grabbing it like it was a gold rush. Common sense ? Stay home if you are sick! Wednesday evening I took my granddaughter to piano lessons at DePauw's Great Hall. Located in the Great Hall is a coffee and snack shoppe , I heard one of the employees (serving students) state to the other " I should not be here, I have diarrhea so bad" . People please cover your cough/sneeze, and stay home if sick.

    -- Posted by goingon80 on Fri, Mar 13, 2020, at 10:53 AM
  • *

    BHS1967 - Hoping you & your granddaughter don't get sick... with corona virus or anything else. :(

    What is wrong w/people?

    -- Posted by dreadpirateroberts on Fri, Mar 13, 2020, at 11:58 AM
  • I have just had it with all of you trolls. All those Bon Petit employees that you are mocking lost their jobs this morning because of this tragedy. For once think of the souls this is truly affecting and not your own pathetic lives stuck behind a computer screen 24 hours a day.

    -- Posted by Javabeans on Fri, Mar 13, 2020, at 5:06 PM
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    honeyroastedpeanuts - no one is mocking anyone.

    I was commenting on the people who act like this viral outbreak is cause for panic, as well as question people who think its ok to go to work while sick.

    BHS1967 was pointing out the selfishness of people who put other people at risk, especially in light of the COVID-19 hysteria.

    These sentiments are not incompatible with feeling empathy for those who have lost their jobs.

    There are likely to be many more losing their jobs and or being affected, at least in the short term, b/c of the COVID-19 hysteria.

    Maybe you should consider what was said in the context of the conversation and put a check on your own hate.

    -- Posted by dreadpirateroberts on Sat, Mar 14, 2020, at 11:26 AM
  • Not to worry about the lost job, President Trump has said they will still be paid. Vice President Pence said the same thing today at the News Conference on TV.

    -- Posted by Rainbow6 on Sat, Mar 14, 2020, at 4:38 PM
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