Kosciusko County Public Health Officer Dr. William Remington isn’t holding back on his support for schools going to a mask mandate at this time.

At Wednesday morning’s weekly press conference, on the topic of “the reframed quarantine directive and fully-masked schools, which this Health Department fully supports,” he said, “wear a mask, stay in school. I can’t emphasize that enough. We do not have a robust immunization rate in this county. There’s lots of community transmission. A LOT of community transmission. The only way these schools can stay operational, in my opinion, is to be fully masked, which refrains quarantine, or they totally disregard quarantine directive as promulgated by the state administrative code, and I don’t have a lot of patience for that.”

Remington continued, “If we did not see the disease burden we see now – this terrible hospitalization graffing across the state, including this county – I wouldn’t speak like this. But we’ve got to take this seriously. Schools are, like it or not, an epicenter of public attention that helps frame how we look at this in a county perspective.”

Schools that have no desire to report cases or quarantine contacts in an unmasked environment “is malpractice, in my opinion, and I hope the state finds a way to combat that,” he said. “Wear a mask, stay in school, and let’s stick with the desire to follow the state’s guidance, the governor’s executive order, which emphasizes the communicable disease rule, Indiana administrative code, which asks us – demands us – in schools to quarantine appropriately.”

Warsaw Community School Board last week voted 5-1 to mandate masks at schools whenever the county is in “orange” or “red” as determined by the Indiana state Department of Health. If the county goes to yellow or blue (the lowest level) for two weeks, the masks become optional.

Remington said, “Warsaw Community Schools really took it on the chin to go in the direction of a fully-masked school. They were absolutely correct. I fully support them from a public health voice, and should, I think, be a great example to other schools in this county to look at.”

It’s not the kids that push back against the masking, he said. It’s the voices of their parents. “The kids will follow in line. The parents just need to encourage it, that’s all. That’s all we ask. Look, you wear a shirt in a restaurant, you wear shoes in a restaurant. We ask for masks in schools. What can be so hard about that? It’s a public health directive. It won’t be forever, just for a period of time, to see us through, at least through this significant wave, driven by the Delta variant,” he said.

He gave kudos to WCS on making a hard call and said he hoped the other school corporations “step up.” He didn’t know “perfectly” what the status of the school corporations in the area are as some have wanted to engage with him and others “not so much.” He believed most of the schools in the county are reporting to the state.

Remington started Wednesday’s press conference with all the latest data for the county.

Cases continue to go up in Kosciusko. The county’s first case was March 26, 2020, and it’s now had over 11,000 cases, up “several hundred” from last week, he said. There have been 134 deaths, up three from last week. The county remains at the state Department of Health’s “orange” advisory level, which is where it was the last two weeks and is the next-to-worst level.

“We have a slight increase of positivity. We’re at 13.3%, compared to 12.5% a week ago. At our worst, in November, we were 26%,” Remington said. “Our daily average of new cases is around 27, we were at 44 a week ago, so a little softer. Quite a bit less than what we saw at our worst in November, 134 new cases averaging daily.”

The county’s weekly cases per 100,000 as per the ISDH, an important metric with the color advisory, is higher at 390 weekly new cases per 100,000, compared to last week’s 318.

“The (Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s) color-coded map is all red across the country, including Kosciusko County. They consider a high transmission rate at greater than 100 weekly cases per 100,000. Again, we’re at 390,” Remington said.

The seven-day moving average for Indiana for deaths is up from nine last week to 23 as of Wednesday. The worst, in November, was 100.

“Again, as you’ve heard me mention (before), deaths are a lagging indicator and that lagging indicator is now plain,” Remington said.

He thinks “we’re going to be in this surge for a few more weeks. ... Schools have got to get serious about this. Case burden in our schools is significant.”

Mayor Joe Thallemer said he heard Wednesday morning that St. Joe County’s full vaccinated total population just hit 50%. If they can do it, he said, so can Kosciusko County.