County health administrator Penny Caudill shed some light on expanded COVID-19 test availability and best mask-wearing practices Wednesday as Monroe County continues to experience a rise in COVID-19 cases.
All 92 counties in Indiana are now at a red advisory, the most serious level on the state's COVID-19 dashboard.
This week, Monroe County has 1,457 cases per 100,000 residents. Last week, the county had 1,081 cases per 100,000 residents. The uptick in cases is around a 35% increase, but this rise is not as substantial as the previous week's 76% rise in Monroe County.
The uptick still warrants concern, Caudill said.
"While this could be a good sign that things might be stabilizing a little bit, it also may be a result of delayed results coming in," Caudill said, referencing the ongoing issue of testing availability in Monroe County.
Local testing sites continue to be overwhelmed as many of those tested for COVID-19 are experiencing a delay in receiving results. According to Caudill, reported cases are always less than the true number of those actually infected because not every positive test is reported. For example, some people with COVID-19 are taking at-home tests, which aren't systematically reported to health officials. And some people who are sick don't get tested.
Caudill said residents should expect to see a state-sponsored mobile clinic, which will have COVID-19 tests and vaccines available, in the county sometime next week. The Monroe County Health Department will release the mobile clinic's scheduled days and operational hours when those details have been finalized. Residents will be able to find those details on the health department's social media sites.
Monroe County currently has COVID-19 testing available at the state-sponsored Gravity Diagnostics site, 171 N. Curry Pike, 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday each week.
The COVID-19 vaccination and testing clinic at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has been extended through Feb. 26 with an update to its hours of operation. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, the clinic is open noon to 8 p.m. On Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, it is open 8 a.m.-4 p.m.
The federal government is now providing four free at-home tests per household to those who register. Residents can visit covidtests.gov to order them now. Tests can take between seven to 12 days to arrive.
"This is something for you to order and have on hand for future need. It's not going to address the need you may have today or tomorrow or even next week," Caudill said.
Residents can find additional testing sites within or nearby Monroe County at www.coronavirus.in.gov.
This week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its mask guidance to reflect how face masks can be worn most effectively to prevent or mitigate one's exposure to COVID-19. One of the most important aspects of mask-wearing is to ensure that the mask fits properly over one's nose, mouth and chin without any gaps or leaks.
Cloth masks should have multiple layers of tightly woven, breathable fabric with a nose wire; the fabric should be thick enough that it blocks light when held up to a bright light.
Caudill reiterated the CDC's recommendation to ensure that one's mask is well-fitted.
"None of this is really new information. It is just that with the increased transmissibility of omicron, the best mask you can have is even more important than it's been in the past," Caudill said.
Monroe County stays its employee mandate
Monroe County has put a pause on requiring its government employees to either be vaccinated against COVID-19 or undergo weekly testing after the U.S. Supreme Court recently stayed the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration's Vaccination and Testing Emergency Temporary Standard. This standard required employers with at least 100 employees to establish and enforce a written policy requiring employees to either be vaccinated or be subject to regular testing and wear a facial covering in indoor settings and vehicles.
If the standard is implemented, OSHA could fine an employer that was not in compliance with the standard up to $13,653 for each violation. Employers that repeatedly violate the standard could be fined up to $136,532.
Last week, to be in compliance with the standard, the Monroe County Board of Commissioners approved a mandatory vaccination or regular testing policy for employees. However, on Wednesday, the commissioners amended the policy to now reflect that it will be effective if and when the U.S. Supreme Court lifts the stay.
Contact Rachel Smith at email@example.com or @RachelSmithNews on Twitter.
This article originally appeared on The Herald-Times: Monroe County continues uptick in COVID-19 cases, how to get tested