Greenfield-Central students make their way down the hall between classes. Like other schools, G-C has had to send out reminders to families about bringing masks to school. Tom Russo | Daily Reporter
Greenfield-Central students make their way down the hall between classes. Like other schools, G-C has had to send out reminders to families about bringing masks to school. Tom Russo | Daily Reporter
HANCOCK COUNTY — Nearly two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, personal protective equipment remains a part of daily life for many.

Perhaps no one knows that better than those in schools and health-care settings. County schools report their mask requirements continue to go well for the most part, although some have had to emphasize reminders. The official in charge of ensuring Hancock Regional Hospital has enough gear for protecting health-care workers from the novel coronavirus says market conditions have improved immensely, but that challenges still abound.

Greenfield-Central, Mt. Vernon, Southern Hancock and grades 6 through 12 at Eastern Hancock have required masks for much of the 2021-22 school year. The mandate lets them take advantage of flexibility from the state allowing many exposed to someone with COVID-19 to avoid quarantining and stay in school. Masks also have to continue to be worn on school buses per a federal requirement.

Without mask requirements, more students would likely have to remain at home, especially lately as COVID-19 cases in the county’s schools spike. All public schools in Hancock County except Eastern Hancock Middle School reported new cases last week, according to the Indiana Department of Health. The highest rises among student cases were Greenfield-Central High School, with 33; Mt. Vernon High School, with 32; and New Palestine High School, with 22.

Greenfield-Central sent a message before the end of winter break reminding families that students should bring their own masks to school each day and wear them during the appropriate times. Masks are considered part of the dress code, the message continued.

Harold Olin, G-C superintendent, said the school corporation has provided a lot of masks to students throughout the pandemic that it’s purchased and received from the state and donations. He added the corporation discovered it was going through the masks so quickly that it wouldn’t be able to continue doing so in the future. Leaders have been emphasizing that students need to bring their own.

He noted that Maxwell Intermediate School, which has about 500 students, had about 17 who came without masks on the first day back from winter break last week, and that their families were called to remind them about the requirement. The next day, about 10 came without masks, Olin continued, adding by Thursday of last week that number had dropped to about four.

“So our families have been working with us,” he said.

The same kind of disciplinary action as other dress code violations may become necessary if a student continues coming to school without a mask, Olin said, but that’s yet to be necessary.

Jason Cary, principal of Greenfield-Central High School, recalled quite a few reusable cloth masks being handed out on the first day back from break, but that fewer have needed to be provided since then.

“The kids have done a nice job,” Cary said. “Some kids need a gentle reminder from time to time. Overall they’ve been doing a great job, and we’ve been proud of the way they’ve handled it.”

Maria Bond, director of community relations for Mt. Vernon, said students there seem to be handling the mask requirement as best as they can and seem to be glad to be learning in school. She said the corporation has a supply of masks it’s bought and received from outside contributions that are provided to students who come to school without one.

Bond recalled in the fall, Mt. Vernon sent out a reminder that students needed to enter buses wearing masks, as the school corporation was providing them and going through its supply too quickly.

Students aren’t disciplined for forgetting masks, she added.

“We may remind parents if students are repeatedly forgetting their masks, but generally, reminders are all that is needed.” Bond told the Daily Reporter in an email.

Wes Anderson, director of school and community relations for Southern Hancock, said the school corporation has enough masks to provide students who need them from its supply provided by the state and donations.

“We do have an occasional issue with forgetfulness,” Anderson told the Daily Reporter in an email. “Our bus drivers carry extra masks if a student leaves theirs behind. We also have supplies in each of our front offices in case students forget when they come in from their cars or the parent dropoff line.”

He added students understand why masks are required.

“They also want to be at school and learning,” he said. “They have been overwhelmingly positive about being able to keep schools open.”

George Philhower, superintendent of Eastern Hancock, said the school corporation also provides masks to students who forget them.

“The great majority of our families are sending their kids to school with masks,” he said.

Supply chain challenges

In a health-care setting, personal protective equipment for COVID-19 often means far more than just wearing a cloth or surgical mask. It can require hair coverings, eye protection like goggles and face shields, specially designed fitted masks, gowns, gloves and even shoe covers.

“PPE is head to toe, not nose to chin,” said Austin Fridley, manager of supply chain and purchasing for Hancock Regional Hospital.

Fridley said getting personal protective equipment is currently the best it’s been since the start of the pandemic.

“But that doesn’t mean it’s good,” he added. “It’s all relative. We have seen availability come and go just as quickly, and it is still a very uncertain market.”

There are far more options in the market now, he continued. And while most of those options are on the more commercial side, with equipment that doesn’t have to stand up to as stringent standards as health care-grade gear, they have freed up some of the competition health care providers experienced earlier on in the pandemic.

Costs are heading back toward normal market values, Fridley said, but there continue to be some supplies the hospital has to pay more for.

And supply chain issues over personal protective equipment pale in comparison to many other items needed for patient care, he said.

“We don’t have a huge domestic manufacturing market,” Fridley said. “We are vulnerable to decisions made anywhere in the world. And if COVID appears in some places in the world, then that city, that province, whatever, can be at a moment’s notice locked down for however long. Production stops. Ports stop. Airplanes stop. It’s a supply chain. You’re only as strong as your weakest link.”

Long-term care facilities make up another environment where personal protective equipment remains important. Wesley Rogers, president and CEO of Golden LivingCenters - Indiana, whose Brandywine location is in Greenfield, said the company has been able to secure enough of the equipment.

“There are some supply chain issues, but with advance planning it is currently possible to keep the necessary PPE in stock,” Rogers told the Daily Reporter in an email. “The expense of the pandemic has impacted health-care providers, and maintaining a supply of PPE is something we accept as an essential operating cost that is necessary to keep everyone safe while we strive to deliver quality care for all.”

Ensuring there’s enough personal protective equipment in Hancock County for those who need it continues to be a priority for Misty Moore, the county’s emergency management director. But it’s not as much of a concern as it’s been in the past. She noted that in earlier months of the pandemic, first-responder departments and other entities were able to acquire large amounts of supplies.

“I think it was due to the fact that we were able to stockpile so much back in the second and third waves of the pandemic,” she said.
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