Tristan Kitch, left, and Information Technology Director Jami Cates, right, set up a camera to be used for distance learning in art teacher Kyle Darnell’s classroom at Signature School in Downtown Evansville, Ind., Tuesday morning, Aug. 4, 2020. The school will provide students opting to learn from home with live streamed classes and spent nearly $150,000 on equipment, such as cables, cameras and televisions, needed for each classroom.
SAM OWENS/ COURIER & PRESS
Tristan Kitch, left, and Information Technology Director Jami Cates, right, set up a camera to be used for distance learning in art teacher Kyle Darnell’s classroom at Signature School in Downtown Evansville, Ind., Tuesday morning, Aug. 4, 2020. The school will provide students opting to learn from home with live streamed classes and spent nearly $150,000 on equipment, such as cables, cameras and televisions, needed for each classroom. SAM OWENS/ COURIER & PRESS
EVANSVILLE — On the day Vanderburgh County absorbed a double gut-punch of bad COVID-19 news, city and county officials urged calm, vigilance — and realism.

The county saw its seventh coronavirus-related death in 13 days Wednesday — the 13th overall — plus another jump in the percentage of COVID-19 cases involving people age 19 or younger.

And there's this: CDC and White House coronavirus response officials said recently that schools in areas with COVID-19 "positivity rates" higher than 5% — like Vanderburgh and several other area counties — shouldn't open in person. Positivity rate is the percentage of people tested who come up positive for COVID-19.

That news comes as Evansville Vanderburgh School Corp. forges ahead with plans to reopen to in-school instruction on Aug. 19. Catholic Diocese of Evansville schools and Signature School reopened on Wednesday, a development EVSC officials say they are watching closely.

Mayor Winnecke: 'I don't think we should panic'

Evansville Mayor Lloyd Winnecke says local residents shouldn't kid themselves.

"I don't think we should panic about these numbers, but I do think we ought to come to the realization that these might be the numbers we're going to be experiencing for a while," Winnecke said Wednesday. "I think it's probably naive to think we're going to get down into the three-and-four-and-five new cases a day range versus the mid-30s to mid-50s."

The mayor expressed confidence that local private and public school officials are working to fashion the safest possible plans for reopening schools. But he pounded a familiar theme — residents must do their part by following recommended safety practices.

"Again, not to panic, but live our lives accordingly by taking the personal responsibility that we each should be taking," he said.

Official: Expect to see cases in schools

Dr. Kris Box, Indiana's state health commissioner, addressed schools reopening amid the novel coronavirus pandemic during a press briefing Wednesday. She said it is to be expected that the state will see cases of COVID-19 within schools as they begin to reopen but that does not necessarily mean that schools need to close.

"Having a case of COVID in a school should not be a cause for panic or a reason to close," she said. "It's a reason to take action to prevent an outbreak."

Jeff Hatfield, president of the Vanderburgh County Board of Commissioners, said he hasn't discussed the local parochial schools' plans with the county health department, but he has faith "at the moment" that EVSC knows what it's doing.

"I'm talking to my health department, and they're assuring me that EVSC has submitted all their opening plans to them. (The health department) has reviewed them, and (the plans) comply with the state department of health and the department of education's recommendations to them to reopen," said Hatfield, who leads county government's executive governing body.

"Is that an assurance that children are going to be 100 percent safe from COVID? There's no way that could be a claim made. I don't think any of us are 100 percent safe from COVID — anywhere."

But the issue isn't whether children can survive COVID-19, Hatfield said.

"The pain and suffering you go through while you've got it, in some people is pretty extreme," he said. "And children can pass it on to older members of their household. Even in a normal year, our school corporation spreads all kinds of flus and viruses and sicknesses already."

Inside Vanderburgh County's COVID-19 numbers

The 13th Vanderburgh County resident to die in the pandemic was a 73-year-old man, according to the health department. The news comes days after Warrick County's 30th coronavirus-related death, a 72-year-old man.

Other numbers also offer little encouragement.

As of Saturday, 11.6% of cases in Vanderburgh County involved individuals in the school-age demographic of 19 and younger. By Tuesday morning, the number was up to 12.2%. And on Wednesday, it registered another half-percentage point higher at 12.7%.

On May 21 — two-and-a-half months ago, when the county had just 228 cases in all — just 3% involved individuals 19 or younger.

More: Vanderburgh County reports 13th coronavirus-related death

More: COVID-19 cases hit EVSC prior to classes; student-athletes test positive

More: Vanderburgh County meets CDC director's COVID-19 'hot spot' definition, but EVSC mum

The death attributed to COVID-19 in Vanderburgh County Wednesday marks the seventh local death due to the virus in less than two weeks.

The new spate of deaths due to COVID-19 began with the seventh such death of a Vanderburgh County resident on July 23. Before that, it had been awhile. The seventh death was the first attributed to the novel coronavirus in Vanderburgh County since June 19.

Now, this.

Not all of Wednesday's news was so grim. Vanderburgh County reported 37 new COVID-19 cases — some 21 fewer than the one-day record amount of 58. The seven-day "positivity rate" held steady.

According to the ISDH statewide dashboard of cases, the county has accumulated an even 1,800 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus. The number has been building since March 19.

ISDH reported Wednesday that Vanderburgh County's positivity rate increased to 6.7% from Tuesday's 6.6%. As recently as July 2, it was 3.7%. The number has been inching upward nearly every day since. It is now three full percentage points higher.

But the seven-day positivity rate, arguably more indicative of what's happening on the ground now, held steady at the number reported Tuesday, 10.2%. It registered at 9.3% on Monday.

The percentage of cases involving people aged 20-29 continued trending downward Wednesday. It is the single largest age group representation. But while that number clocked in at 33% as recently as July 23, it has been steadily declining since then. It registered at 29.3% on Sunday, 29% Monday, 28.8% Tuesday and 28.6% Wednesday.

The number of COVID-19 cases that remain active is no longer available.

The Vanderburgh County Health Department's dashboard had been providing that number — but the local agency stopped reporting COVID-19 data last week, ceding control of all local data to ISDH. The state agency has taken over local contact tracing and case investigation but doesn't issue a number of local active cases.

The recent proliferation of cases prompted Winnecke to announce a mask order he rescinded July 27 in deference to a mandatory mask order for the entire state signed by Gov. Eric Holcomb. The City Council also dropped a pending ordinance mandating face coverings in most situations in deference to Holcomb's order. The County Commissioners have voted 3-0 for a resolution "recommending citizens to wear face coverings to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Vanderburgh County."

The ISDH updates its online dashboard of COVID-19 data daily, including deaths, as it tracks the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Warrick County also has its own dashboard with its own COVID-19 data.


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