GOSHEN — County officials don’t expect to get any guidance from the Centers for Disease Control when a study on the local boom in COVID-19 cases finally surfaces.
Elkhart City Councilman Kevin Bullard is seeking the release of a report that was supposed to come out of a visit by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in summer. The CDC sent a team to study why Elkhart County had become such a hotbed of COVID-19 infections, something local leaders and health officials hoped would be instructive in how to keep such an outbreak from happening again.
“When they came to Elkhart, we made a lot of news. It had a negative impact I think on Elkhart County,” Bullard said Monday during the Elkhart County Board of Commissioners meeting. “The study that they performed was to give us guidance on the next pandemic. Well, we’re probably going to go to red this coming Wednesday. So here we are.”
He asked the board to help get the study released, something he’s been appealing to local and state officials for. He said he may see about compelling the release with a Freedom of Information Act request.
Commissioner Suzie Weirick asked Bullard what he expected to get from the report.
“Guidance,” he answered. “That’s what it was supposed to be, was for guidance.”
Weirick said the report is back in the hands of the CDC after some errors were spotted that need to be corrected. Health Officer Lydia Mertz confirmed that later Monday, saying that some typos were marked for correction as well as some more important information.
“It referenced organizations this county doesn’t have, and didn’t make clear that some data was from this county and some from the state. There were a few other things like that that we felt were confusing, rather than clarifying. We noted those and asked them to correct those,” Mertz said. “Unknown to us at the time, it then had to go through layers of people to get the corrections made and then re-approved for release.”
She said they’ve been checking on the status of the report often, but haven’t been given an answer on how long it will take to get a corrected report back so it can be released. She said it’s frustrating for the Elkhart County Health Department and the county as a whole.
“None of us have seen it,” Weirick told Bullard. “But I’ve also been told that there is no guidance. It’s basically an analysis, which is what they do. So for whatever it’s worth, I don’t think even if you did get the report, you’re gonna get what you want out of it.”
She also said the report will only reflect the data as it was at the time, rather than how it stands today. She later noted that the COVID-19 infection rate in Elkhart County had peaked at roughly 12 percent in April.
She said test results now show it at just over 19 percent.
Weirick as well as the other commissioners, Mike Yoder and Frank Lucchese, agreed that the expectations surrounding the report were that it would offer some form of guidance during the pandemic.
“We were looking for some magic wand,” she said.
But Yoder said he sat in on one of the meetings that the team held with the Amish community and came away with the impression that the study was just that, a study. He indicated that there’s no different guidance coming other than what’s been given from the start.
“From that meeting, what I gathered is that it was more like a research study. It’s what the attitudes were in the community, what practices were being accepted, what was not being implemented or accepted,” Yoder said. “The recommendations are actually the same as they’ve always been, it’s the precautionary measures that we all know really well. There’s not much else to do.”
‘We’ve seen spikes’
Hand washing, social distancing and wearing a mask were effective in reducing infections, hospitalizations and deaths by August, the Elkhart County Health Department said in a statement Friday. They believe neglect has allowed the community spread to increase again.
Several people attended the meeting Monday to once again challenge the mask mandate in place locally and at the state level, in addition to questioning the numbers of infections, hospitalizations and deaths that have been reported. They presented a petition asking for the orders to be rescinded and opposing vaccination.
Weirick tried to address some of their claims, such as explaining how a COVID-19 infection could contribute to someone’s death and be listed as a comorbidity.
“Remember, COVID carries some issues that then may heighten your other illnesses as well. If you were in a car accident, I think you were in the wrong place at the wrong time and you might have had COVID,” she said. “But I think if you have respiratory issues, if you have cardiac issues, if you have cancer issues, sometimes that can expedite your expiration.”
But some of the attendees stuck to their guns. They included Dawn Stauffer, who believes the pandemic was planned and continues to place her faith in a president who recently became infected with COVID-19.
“No, it is over and over. My own friend who lives in White Pigeon, her sister, I don’t know what hospital she works in, I don’t even know, in an emergency room. She said, ‘Is it true that the hospital gets X amount of dollars if it’s COVID diagnosed and X amount if they use a ventilator?’ and she said yes,” said Stauffer, raising her voice at times. “The truth is, doctors all over are crying out, families are crying out, ‘My loved one did not die of COVID, but that’s what they put it on.’ And the numbers are totally skewed. That’s all I’ll say, and they’re skewed on purpose for political reasons. They’re lying, big time.”
Yoder said he has no doubt that hospitalization rates are on the rise again, knowing some of the hospital officials who report the numbers. It’s one of the metrics that officials keep a close eye on in making decisions related to COVID-19.
“I’ll tell you today, there’s no doubt that our hospitals are almost full,” he said. “We’ve seen spikes and we’ve seen the numbers go down. It seems like each time we get a new spike, it spikes a little bit higher.”