The (Fort Wayne) Journal Gazette. June 21, 2020.

Complaints mask most effective virus preventive

Is the “reopening” happening too fast?

Trying to answer that question means confronting a sea of ever-changing information about COVID-19.

Obsessing on its risks obscures a more important point. Even if the rules continue to melt away, and if the trend lines continue to be positive, Hoosiers who take those as signs they can disregard the simple steps for preventing infection will be working against the common good and undermining Indiana’s chance to truly keep ahead of this pandemic.

There were signs of hope last week in a new study by the Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health at IUPUI. Even as cases continued to rise in much of the south and west, Indiana’s new cases and deaths continue to fall.

“It is likely that the virus has slowed due to our collective efforts to be safer, engage in social distancing, and reduce transmission by wearing masks and adhering to higher hand- and surface-hygiene standards,” wrote Fairbanks lead scientist Dr. Nir Menachemi.

But as The Journal Gazette’s Niki Kelly reported, there are some worrisome spikes in northeast Indiana’s data. And there’s still the possibility of an upturn if Hoosiers take the relaxing of regulations as an excuse to stop using masks and social distancing. And that, let’s face it, has been happening all along – diluting the onerous, steady work many Hoosiers have been doing to slow the infection rate.

Most places you go, it seems fewer than half the people are wearing masks and keeping to themselves. And the other half are carelessly or deliberately ignoring those guidelines.

Is it defiance? Misplaced machismo? Ignorance? Convenience? It doesn’t matter.

People who refuse to wear masks in public are pushing blithely into the unknown without a thought for their fellow Hoosiers’ safety.

Representatives from IU Health, Parkview Health, Lutheran Health and the Allen County Department of Health joined Fort Wayne and Allen County officials for a local status report last week.

Parkview reported an upsurge in COVID-19 cases; Lutheran said its spike was smaller. There has been growing certainty about the efficacy of masks. But otherwise, their message about what needs to be done has hardly varied.

It really has made a difference, said County Commissioner President Nelson Peters – “the social distancing, washing your hands, the hand-sanitizers really do matter, and it’s important that we continue to try to follow them.”

Parkview’s Dr. Jason Row said recent upsurges in cases and hospitalizations at his facilities seem to mirror some dropped caution as stay-at-home rules are relaxed.

Mask-wearing is particularly crucial, he said, and has little to do with how at risk you are to the disease. Wearing a mask has nothing to do with being “afraid,” Row said.

“When I wear a mask, what it should tell you is that I care enough about you that I am willing to put up with the discomfort and the social stigma of wearing a mask.”

In the big scheme of trying to restart our economy, get our kids back to school and reclaim our lives, it is not too much to ask.


South Bend Tribune. June 17, 2020.

Follow through on initial steps toward police reform in South Bend

The past several weeks since the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis have been marked by protests, calls for police reform and an overwhelming sense of frustration and anger about the expanding list of names of African Americans killed by police.

In other words, it’s been a lot like what South Bend experienced — on a much smaller scale — just one year ago after the fatal police shooting of Eric Logan by Ryan O’Neill, who was a South Bend police sergeant at the time.

Some, heartened and inspired by the depth and breadth of national protests, believe that this time is different, that real, substantive change may finally be coming. But locally, not much has been accomplished in the area of police reform.

And then, within the span of a few days — unquestionably spurred in part by the momentum created by the national movement — came signs of potential progress on police reform in South Bend.

At a Monday news conference, Mayor James Mueller said that he will release a police officer discipline matrix later this week, the department will ban chokeholds, and he’ll ask a consultant when the city can release its recommendations for police reforms called for after the killing of Logan a year ago.

Also at the news conference, the mayor and Police Chief Scott Ruszkowski stated their willingness to work with the council on a civilian review board.

The announcements came after the Common Council’s release Friday of a letter that was critical of the mayor’s handling of the issues. The council has tabled Mueller’s request to give police officers a 2.5% pay raise, on top of the 2% raise they’re already receiving this year, until it has more time to discuss the proposal.

The council wants to make sure the city budget, expected to take a major hit because of the coronavirus pandemic, can afford the extra raises. The council also first wants to see action on the reforms, according to the six-page letter, signed by council Democrats, who make up eight of nine members.

It’s hard not to note the timing of this potential progress: Tuesday marks the one-year anniversary of the fatal shooting of Logan, and during that time, city officials haven’t done much in terms of concrete reform to address the concerns of those calling for change. With then-Mayor Pete Buttigieg on the presidential campaign trail, the national media gave South Bend and the longstanding problematic relationship between police and the African American community an extreme close-up.

The city made few changes to the police department’s policies based on community feedback. And the new disciplinary guidelines, which were originally set to go to the city Board of Public Safety for approval in January, have been tabled for the last six months.

The city last year spent $180,000 to hire a prominent Chicago-based consulting firm to study the police department and report back with potential reforms, but still has not announced the results of the study.

As for a civilian review board, the concept — typically revived in the wake of incidents involving complaints of alleged excess force and other misconduct — has been a nonstarter for years, mostly due to a lack of support from the city’s mayors, past and present.

But on Monday, the mayor committed to reform. He took an initial step toward addressing the changes that must be made to create a more just system and establish trust. He must follow through on these commitments that come a year after the fatal Father’s Day shooting that created a highly combustible brew in this city.

The mayor, who took office five months ago and is working with a council made up of several new faces, should seize the opportunity to take a fresh look at this deep-seated problem. And he should do so with a sense of urgency, because this community can’t wait another 12 months for meaningful change.


The (Anderson) Herald Bulletin. June 20, 2020.

Release nursing home COVID-19 numbers

These are uncertain times for Hoosiers, full of decisions that could mean the difference between staying safe or contracting and spreading the deadly coronavirus.

Hoosier seniors are particularly susceptible to ill effects of the disease, causing them and their families heightened anxiety.

So, you’d think the state would do whatever it could to assure that seniors and their families have the very best, most complete information about the spread of the coronavirus in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

But Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb has chosen to withhold statistics from the public related to COVID-19 cases and deaths in individual facilities, reasoning that it’s not the government’s responsibility to release such information about private businesses.

Holcomb not only misses the overarching concerns of the public, but he also misrepresents the ownership of nursing homes. In Indiana, about 90% are owned by county hospitals, which are units of government. Also, hospitals across the state rake in billions of dollars in Medicaid and Medicare payments from the government annually.

The Indiana State Department of Health provides weekly updates about aggregate statewide confirmed cases and deaths from COVID-19 in Indiana’s long-term care facilities, a category that includes nursing homes, skilled nursing facilities, and assisted living and residential facilities.

Monday’s health department report showed 1,082 of the state’s COVID-19 deaths — 2,289 as reported Wednesday — had occurred in long-term care facilities. That’s nearly 50%, illustrating that Indiana nursing homes are especially susceptible to the virus and highlighting the need for public disclosure of cases in individual facilities.

The list of states releasing such statistics has grown to 30 as the importance of full disclosure dawns on state officials across the country.

Yet, Gov. Holcomb has dug in his heels and refused to budge, instead citing a state directive that each long-term care facility inform designated family members about COVID-19 cases. But some Hoosiers have complained that nursing homes, even when asked directly, won’t willingly divulge the statistics.

Holcomb’s position is both a disservice to Hoosiers and a signal that government is bowing to the business interests of nursing homes.

The governor, himself, has benefited from the industry. Since 2016, nursing home operators have donated at least $100,000 to his campaign, including his joint fundraising committee with the state Republican Party.

It’s high time that Holcomb, for the good of Hoosier seniors and their families, corrected this problem. He should direct the state health department to report regularly on COVID-19 cases and deaths at each of Indiana’s 500-plus long-term care facilities.