Local health department adjusts to new COVID orders

Mike Grant, Washington Times-Herald, Ind.
·4 min read

Mar. 24—After a year of fighting COVID-19 Governor Eric Holcomb unveiled a number of changes that will have a big impact on local health officials.

"I was sitting there listening to him and at one point I was wondering what was going to come out of his mouth next," said Daviess County Public Health Nurse Kathy Sullender. "Some of those things made me partly happy and others left me with some concerns."

The Daviess County Health Department has been on the front lines of the COVID fight for the past year, often left to try and enforce the orders that came from Indianapolis.

One of the biggest things for the health department since the first of the year has been administering vaccine.

"I was really happy to hear the governor say that he was opening the vaccinations up to all Hoosiers 16 and over," said Sullender. "It has been very frustrating to have to tell people that they did not fit into the groups we had been instructed to vaccinate. My big question now is where all of the vaccine will come from and when we will get it."

Holcomb says the vaccination expansion will begin on March 31. He says he has been assured by the federal government that by then the state will have a big increase in the amount of vaccine that it can use.

"I have worked with the state for a long time and I will believe those extra doses when I see them," said Sullender. "If we do receive a large enough amount of vaccine, we are fully prepared to set up a mass immunization clinic and get shots into the arms of as many people as possible."

So far in Daviess County the health department has been doing the bulk of the vaccinations, but that will be changing.

"The state will be sending their mobile unit here on March 31 and it will be here for three days," said Sullender. "So we will also have that working for us."

The governor will allow the public health emergency to continue through April, but starting on April 6, he will be leaving decisions on the cap for venues in the hands of local officials.

"We are planning to have a meeting to discuss that and how we will be handling it," said Sullender. "I think a lot will depend on our color code. Right now, we are 'blue' and that means a low level of COVID spread in our community. We will probably revisit some of those plans we worked out earlier. I would say the longer we can stay in the 'blue' the more likely we will head toward normal."

On April 6 there will be more changes. Restaurants, bars and nightclubs will be allowed to let customers stand, although the six feet of social distancing is still recommended.

The governor's speech did not mention churches. With Easter weekend coming the health department is making its own recommendations.

"We don't want to keep people away from church," said Sullender. "For now it appears that we will continue with the 'blue' suggestions. That will mean keeping that six feet of social distancing, wearing a mask, and paying attention to the people you are around. Don't endanger someone who might be in a high risk group and avoid turning church services into an event that spreads the virus."

The governor now says his mask order is advisory instead of mandatory although people will still be required to wear one in some situations. Those include all state facilities, all COVID vaccination and testing sites, and all k-12 schools through the end of the school year.

The state will also allow local units of government and local businesses and other entities to require more stringent standards than those announced by the governor.

"We are going to have a number of meetings in the next few weeks and will be making some decisions locally," said Sullender. "If we feel it is necessary, because COVID begins to spread again we could tighten things up. We will just have to see. Hopefully, the worst is over. I just hope that it doesn't come back."