VANDERBURGH COUNTY, Ind (WEHT) — As the number of positive COVID-19 cases increases in Evansville and Vanderburgh County, Brad Byrd talked to Vanderburgh County Health Department administrator Joe Gries on InDEPTH.
Brad Byrd: This is InDEPTH. We report them every night. You see the maps, the numbers. But they’re in reality of course not numbers. They’re people here in the Tri-State. The positive cases are on the increase, especially in Evansville and Vanderburgh County. Earlier today, I talked to Joe Gries, he is the administrator of the Vanderburgh County Health Department. Joe, first off, when you saw these numbers begin to spike and Evansville and vanderburgh. County, what was your reaction, that initial gut reaction you had? But
Joe Gries: We’ve looked at the data and that’s where we want to kind of base our reactions on. So we were looking at the information, all the confirmed cases, we looked at, you know, the age ranges, the demographics, and trying to determine, you know, were there any trends or were there any information within the data that would show us you know, what’s going on? You know, there were a lot of younger people, ages 18 to 35 that that were contracting the virus. There were people telling us when we would contact them and talk to them that they were out in in the community, not social distancing, not wearing masks.
BB: And Joe briefly, there are different totals. The Indiana Department of Health has a total that it releases daily a dashboard or what have you. And the Vanderburgh County Health Department has another and usually your totals are a little bit lower than the state’s. Walk me through that briefly on what you’re doing to get to those numbers on a daily basis.
JG: Sure. We have a process here at the health department we have a team of investigators that we receive the information from the state and then they go through a process to contact these individuals. We do the contact tracing, we work with, talk to the individuals to understand all of their information, and maybe you know how their health is and give them good information about isolating and educating them about how to monitor their symptoms, and if they need to get medical care, those types of things. So we go through that process. And then we put that information, all of that information into our local database.
BB: As I understand it, right now, restaurants do not have to reveal someone has COVID-19, who’s been into the restaurant or possibly has been in contact with someone. Why is that especially in the middle of a pandemic, is that mandated by the state? Or is it the guidelines? Because a lot of people have that question. Some restaurants are very forthcoming, some not so much.
JG: It’s going to be up to those individual facilities and restaurants. I don’t know that there’s a mandate from the state that would require that. You know, we’re working with the employers we do contact them if they think someone would possibly have COVID-19. And we reach out to them, make sure that they’re following the guidelines from the state that they’re, you know, wearing masks and cleaning and social distancing as much as possible. But you know that that’s up to them if they want to share that information with their clients and with their patrons.
BB: Joe, that begs the question though, and I understand where you’re coming from, but the health department conducts those food inspections that a lot of people read about online and in the paper and so forth. You know, at a drop of a hat, those are out there publicly, but the Covid situation is not. Does that bother you?
JG: No, there’s a fine line here, I think between you know, people’s privacy. You know, there are things that people, you know, still are allowed to keep private. And then, you know, also making sure that the public is safe. And really there hasn’t been any evidence showing that people get it from meeting at restaurants or from food. The inspections that we do, our environmental health specialists, they ensure that, you know, food is safe, in that, you know, they’re following the all the protocols and guidelines, and we have included, you know, the COVID information as well when they’re out at those restaurants and doing those things. We provide that education and guidance as well.
BB: Testing of course, as you know, Joe is a huge challenge everywhere. The availability and the provider protocol. Now, in Evansville and Vanderburgh County, there have been some changes. Do we have, bottom line enough testing capability in Evansville and Vanderburgh County considering the population, about 180,000.
JG: You know, I think you can always use more testing, but I think that our local hospitals, and we now have the, the Optum serve site that it contracts with the ISDH, it’s at the CK Newsome Center from Monday through Friday, 8am – 8pm every day, here in the month of July. We had a neighborhood testing site last week. We have another one tomorrow afternoon on Covert Avenue from five to seven. So you know, there really are a lot of options and looking at the numbers I think I saw a couple days ago, we did almost 600 tests in one day. That’s a good number.
BB: I’m basing this on social media and witness accounts, people had to be turned away at that site. How many tests will be available? It’s a first come first serve basis from what I understand there. How many tests will be available tomorrow if someone just wants to go over there and get tested?
JG: I believe we’re gonna have supplies for 150 tests. It is first come first serve and hopefully we can get through those 150 and a couple hours and, and get, you know, those people tested.