Knox County on Friday doubled its previous single-day record in terms of new confirmed cases of COVID-19, and the halls of some area schools are much quieter these days as hundreds are now out on quarantine due to exposure.

The state Department of Health reported 69 new cases of the novel coronavirus here; the previous single-day high, according to county health officer Dr. Alan Stewart, was just 35.

The total number of cases has now climbed to 1,095, and the 7-day infection rate continued its upward trend, reaching 8.3%.

Knox County, too, as with most other Hoosier counties right now, remains marked with an orange designation — the second-most-severe according to the state’s color-coded system.

The Vincennes Community School Corp. has 13 active cases, but 220 students are out on quarantine, including the entire cheerleading squad and variety football team at Lincoln High School.

VCSC superintendent Greg Parsley said they began placing the first of those 220 students into quarantine on Wednesday.

“And that day it felt like the wheels really came off,” he said. “We know that’s a significant number, but we’re just doing everything we can to keep students safe.”

Parsley pointed back to those 13 active cases, a far cry from the 220 in quarantine, but it was necessary, he said, because most of them were among those involved in contact sports.

“We also know of some large gatherings,” Parsley said of the students’ time spent outside the classroom. “And that’s what’s hard. We know this isn’t spreading in our buildings. The buildings are safe places in that we know, at least there, they are doing everything they are supposed to do.

“A lot of schools are having to close because of the number of positive cases,” Parsley said, “and we’re thankful that is not our situation right now.”

Darrel Bobe, superintendent of the North Knox School Corp., said on Friday he opted to place the Primary School’s entire first-grade class into quarantine due to two confirmed cases in two separate classrooms. There were others, he said, that were out with symptoms, too.

He decided it best, he said, to place the entire first-grade class — some five individual classrooms — into quarantine for two weeks.

“And that’s just what we have to do,” he said matter-of-factly. “If we don’t, then we’re going to have 100 active cases, not just 100 kids in quarantine.”

He added that there are currently five active cases in the entire school corporation.

South Knox School Corp. on Friday reported via its website just one active case at the middle high school.

Stewart, who keeps in close contact with local school superintendents, has said that schools don’t seem to be a large transmitter of the coronavirus, but he did say Friday he is concerned about winter sports, things like basketball and wrestling that drive people back inside.

“Our numbers are just going up dramatically,” he said. “And contact sports are high risk.”

Stewart said he is likely to recommend to the county school corporations to only allow immediate families of the athletes as spectators. Masks, too, he said, should be mandatory in compliance with the statewide mask mandate.

“We’ll have to watch attendance closely,” he said.

Stewart, too, said COVID-19 is beginning to put a strain on area hospitals, and Good Samaritan is no exception.

GSH currently has more than 20 active coronavirus patients, he said, and five on ventilators.

The ICU, he added, “is full,” although he said it hasn’t reached the point of needing to divert patients to other hospitals.

“We’ve got nurses that have been working 60 hours a week since March, and they’re tired,” he said, adding that the hospital has hired traveling nurses to help fill in the scheduling gaps, but they’re in “short supply” as well.

“And I’m worried about their ability to sustain things at this increased level,” he said of the hospital.

Stewart also encouraged members of the Knox County Development Corp. during their regular monthly meeting Friday morning to consider that “economic activity and public health are not mutually exclusive.”

Public health, he said, must come first. Local residents must “do what needs to be done to mitigate the spread of the disease,” things like social distancing and wearing masks. With that, he said, “economic activity” will flourish.

“But we’re reaching a very critical stage right now,” he said.
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