Kosciusko County Health Board Monday discussed the current COVID-19 climate, how the county’s PPE stockpile is faring and the need for people to remain vigilant during the pandemic as cases surge locally.

First up on the COVID-19 topic was the newly created Bowen Center Health Clinic’s free drive-up testing site at 2219 E. Dubois Drive, Warsaw. The clinic opened Thursday and, during Monday evening’s meeting, Kosciusko County Health Department Administrator Bob Weaver said nearly 500 people have been tested there. The clinic is free, and no scheduled appointment or insurance card is required.

The clinic came to be through a partnership with the Indiana State Department of Health; Kurt Carlson, Bowen Center CEO; KCHD; Northern Indiana Hispanic Health Coalition; Warsaw Ivy Tech Community College; Kosciusko Community Hospital; and W.J. Carey Construction. The site is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday and Friday; and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. Paid for through a grant the county received, the early evening hours and at least three Saturdays a month were required, County Health Officer Dr. William Remington said as he touted the hard work of Weaver and Carlson. Anyone age 2 and up can get a test, does not have to be symptomatic and does not need a doctor’s referral.

“They’re doing a lot of tests, and the demand is huge,” Remington said. “It came at the right time. We really needed it.”

The Bowen Center will operate the free testing site through the end of June.

Also Monday, the board heard that the county’s personal protective equipment (PPE) stockpile and resupply are in good shape. At the beginning of the pandemic, any PPE the county received from the state such as face masks, gowns and the like were immediately distributed in their entirety that day, mostly to nursing homes and retirement communities. Today, that demand is less as the pandemic wears on and more places are able to adequately acquire what they need. The county is not overly full, but there is enough if someone calls and needs something to get by.

The COVID-19 update presented by Remington and KCHD Communicable Disease Nurse Teresa Reed wasn’t as positive.

“We’re in our greatest surge of cases yet,” Remington said, blaming it on widespread community transmission and saying local schools haven’t been shown to be an incubator for the virus.

Data up to last Wednesday showed 62 students in the county’s school corporations were isolation cases. By Monday, that number had risen to around 80, Reed said. Of the 500 students who have been quarantined since school began, 40% of those cases came from outside exposure, with 60% being from in-school exposure, she said.

“Overall, schools have gone better than what we were afraid of,” Reed said. “(Warsaw Community Schools Superintendent) Dr. (David) Hoffert has a dream team. Warsaw schools have been all over this.”

Reed said that’s not to say other county school corporations haven’t been doing a fantastic job as well. “Everybody is doing what they need to do to stop the transmission.”

However, she noted, the last few outbreaks the county has seen has been coming from people who are going to work sick and just think it’s allergies, along with people getting “pandemic fatigue” and still having social events. On another topic, Reed reported that KCH is busy but not overwhelmed.

The county’s positivity rate was discussed as it is shown on the ISDH website dashboard. Remington and Reed both said that the positivity rate for Kosciusko County is incorrect and extremely biased because of the way reporting has changed throughout the pandemic. In the beginning, it was just count, count, count all of the positive cases and that was it. Now, places are also reporting the negative tests. That has skewed the county’s positivity rate, and Remington and Reed said because of the massive amount of data entry that is required, they’re not sure that number will ever reflect accurately, which is particularly troublesome because schools and nursing homes often take lead from those type of statistics.

“We don’t just want to hear the positive cases, but we want to hear the negative,” Remington said. “So our county’s positivity rate number is so biased because of that.”

Remington also said people should not get in the routine of repeat testing once they have tested positive. Tests aren’t perfect, he said, and sometimes people can test positive for weeks.

A final discussion on how to handle the twists and turns of COVID-19 was proposed by Remington in looking toward the future for KCHD by creating a public information officer (PIO) position for the health department. Remington said obviously anything COVID related is hot news, and for the health department to have someone who can formalize and control the messaging coming from KCHD to the media or just the general public through social media, would be beneficial. The board voted and unanimously agreed to develop that position.

Also Monday, the board approved the reappointment of Dr. Karen Scripture to continue serving on the board and will have to find a replacement for Cindy Kaiser, as her term was up and she is retiring.

The next KCHD Board meeting is 6 p.m. Jan. 18 in the old county courthouse.