Three community leaders gave a COVID-19 community update March 27 by video during Indiana's stay-at-home order.

Mayor Mike Bettice began by noting, "Within our three-county area — Ripley County, Franklin County and Decatur County — we have a population of approximately 78,000 people. As of last night, we had 61 confirmed cases within our area ... we are unfortunately leading the state in those infections.

"If you look at Vanderburgh County, which is home to Evansville, with a population of 180,000, they have six confirmed cases." He gave two more examples: Allen County, with Fort Wayne and 380,000 people; and Tippecanoe County, which includes Lafayette and West Lafayette and just under 200,000 residents, each had eight confirmed cases.

"We have a much higher rate of incidents than these other parts of the state."

He emphasized, "This is something we really need to pay attention to."

Ripley County health officer Dr. David Welsh said, "We appreciate everyone's efforts today, but we're not done. We're just getting started."

"Just this week in the United States, the total number of positive cases has gone from over 46,000 to over 85,000 from Tuesday to today."

Margaret Mary Health President and CEO Tim Putnam acknowledged, "We're seeing a cluster in this area. Unfortunately, it's a greater intensity per capita in the Ripley-Franklin-Decatur area than any of the rest of the state or, quite frankly, the Midwest."

The state average of tests coming back positive is 15%. At MMH, it's over 30%. He warned, "This is a significantly higher issue in our region ...

"What we're doing to prepare for that at Margaret Mary is expanding our 25-bed capacity to a 36-, 44- and finally a 58-bed capacity.

"Additionally, since Cincinnati and Indianapolis are not seeing the concentration of patients that we are, we still have a good ability to transport critical patients to both of those communities. There's a lot of attention coming from state officials. We actually have the ability to work with the state very closely ... They're going to be sending a team down to be able to work with us to understand what's happening in the region."

The hospital leader said, "I encourage you to adhere to what Dr. Welsh is saying ... and follow the health department's guidelines."

Welsh advised, "We need to practice those things that we know work — washing your hands; social distancing; ... if you are sick, don't join with other folks; if you are sick, seek medical attention, but call first. If you access 911, let them know that you're a person who's having a respiratory situation so we protect our first responders."

"The health department is there for you and can answer your questions. We need you to plan, prepare and be safe."

Bettice said, "I do want to take this opportunity to thank both Dr. Welsh and Mr. Putnam for their work in keeping us all informed on what's happening in our local area .... and very much appreciate they've been so open with us in sharing information."

The mayor concluded, "Be safe and make good choices."

Dr. Frank Fiorito of Margaret Mary Health Emergency Services provided a community update by video March 24. When asked about the spike in cases, he replied, "We're just starting to get test results back. We've really ramped up testing in the last week ... we knew it was coming."

The physician pointed out the surge of recent positive tests came before social distancing and stay-at-home measures were put in place. "Social distancing is what we're going to have to do to ultimately defeat or combat this disease."

Fiorito said MMH staff has been prepared for COVID-19 patients. "That's why we've been pro-active in telling those people to isolate themselves and quarantine ... We have very strict visitor restrictions because we knew this was coming and we tried to get ahead of it the best we can. We're doing everything we can to keep you and the community safe."

In order to handle the increase in patients, "we've been pro-active in increasing resources that include supplies, providers, beds and ventilators."

To stop the virus' spread, area residents must follow the guidelines that have been put in place, according to Fiorito. State lockdowns elsewhere have been ordered "because people have been ignoring what we've been saying all along."

In addition to Welsh's tips, he added that family members at home shouldn't "drink after each other, eat after each other."

The physician reflected, "We need to spread this disease out. It's not going to be quick. It's going to take time. To be honest with you, we're at the beginning of this. The social distancing, all the precautions we're telling you to take are so that we can decrease the number of sick people all at once and spread that over time.

"I know it's very difficult to have to go through these restrictions ... but this is important, this is serious. If we all want to get back to normalcy, we're all going to have to do our part to make sure we can back to that point."

"This is going to be a long battle. I do believe we are going to get through this," but the numbers of cases will grow before lessening.

"Everybody just needs to do their part so we can get through this and save as many lives as possible."
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