St. Joseph County Health Officials urge residents to ‘proceed with caution’ as state moves to Stage 5

Published: Sep. 25, 2020 at 5:33 PM EDT
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) -New information from St. Joseph County Health officials encourages residents to stay vigilant with practices to limit the spread of COVID-19 as the state prepares to enter Stage 5 of the Back on Track plan.

South Bend Mayor James Mueller says now is not the time to let your guard down.

Mayor Mueller reminded people about the first attempt from Indiana to advance to Stage 5 in early-July.

A spike in cases resulted in only advancing to Stage 4.5, where the states been ever since.

“Just because we’re going to stage 5 tomorrow, doesn’t mean we’re out of it. In fact, we’re actually going in the wrong direction,” Mayor Mueller said.

Data shared by St. Joseph County Deputy Health Officer Dr. Mark Fox showed Stage 4.5 did not improve the trend in county-wide cases.

This was something Mueller said makes him question if advancing to Stage 5 was the right move.

He said it’s important that people continue to wear face coverings, practice social distancing, and sanitize often just like we have been since the start.

It’s now been more than half a year since our communities started responding to the virus.

County health officials are now considering new risk factors as move into the fall.

This is the first time we’ll face unique environmental factors that come during this time of the year like a full flu season and prolonged cold temps.

St. Joseph County is trending in the wrong direction when it comes to our seven-day average case count, sitting at 57 cases per day.

Health officials are also concerned with the 730 total active cases in the past two weeks.

Dr. Fox says the flu season could complicate our response to the virus if our health care systems are overwhelmed.

Cold weather will also put social distancing guidelines to the test as workers and students spend more time indoors and closer together.

Those are both reasons Dr. Fox says it’s important for us to work toward decreasing case trends.

“We had gotten worse with the Notre Dame spike. We had gotten better. Then we were down in the 30′s and now have crept back up into the 50′s. That’s probably the best indicator of what’s happening here locally,” he said.

Limiting risk and transmission will be key to controlling the virus as we move into Stage 5 and the colder months of the year.

Mayor Mueller and Dr. Fox agree this is a pivotal point in our response to the coronavirus.

Soon, cold temperatures will force more people to spend more time inside. Much like has occurred in previous flu seasons, this can increase the risk of transmission from person to person.

Dr. Fox said there are four elements to managing risk and transmission that will be increasingly important as folks spend more time together indoors.

The first one is proximity or how close you are to other people. That will be tougher to manage as people spend more time indoors.

The second is the duration of exposure, or how long you’re near other people.

The third is the quality of air circulation or how efficiently does fresh air replace stale air.

The fourth and final one is whether people are wearing masks.

“As those variables are adjusted--if you’re six feet apart but you spend a long period of time in a poorly ventilated area, that’s associated with increased risk,” Dr. Fox said.

Dr. Fox and Mayor Mueller couldn’t stress enough, the importance of people getting flu shots early this year, as a surge in flu cases combined with the impact of the pandemic could be overwhelming.

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