Coronavirus diary: an opinion
By Ron Riley
INDIANA — The Covid-19 message at Wednesday’s meeting of the Indiana County commissioners was a mix of some important information and a misleading message.
It was important to hear county Commissioner Sherene Hess and emergency-management Director Tom Stutzman talk about vaccine hesitancy and the importance of getting vaccinated. But the majority members of the county board remain largely silent on the local Covid situation.
Following Mr. Stutzman’s presentation, Commission Chairman Mike Keith declared, “We are heading in the right direction.”
That is far from the truth.
THE NUMBERS say otherwise. New cases of Covid remain high in the county, and our level of vaccination ranks among the worst in the state.
On Wednesday, the county recorded 530 new cases for the month of April – worse than the 287 cases recorded last month, according to state Department of Health data. We have exceeded our infection rates of October, as we surged into the highest months of November and December. Covid-19-related deaths also are up – eight for the month so far and half of them this week, for a total of 169.
Vaccine distribution continues to fall behind. Thirty-one percent of Indiana County’s population has received at least one dose, compared to 40.7% for the state overall. A comparison of a dozen neighboring countiesranks Indiana 11th of the 12.
The health department ranks counties by percentage of population over age 15 that has been fully vaccinated and that has received one dose. Indiana ranks 55th of 67 Pennsylvania counties.
Meanwhile, Indiana borough monitors the wastewater to provide, among other things, a rough forecast of localized infection trends in ZIP code 15701. The monitoring also can detect mutant strains of the virus that now predominate. Last Friday’s weekly report recorded the fourth consecutive increase in Covid-19 indicators.
COUNTY COMMISSIONERS’ meetings often put blame for Covid-related problems on state government. They find no blame at the county courthouse. Granted, there are many problems than can be attributed to the state. But commissioners – especially majority commissioners Keith and Robin Gorman — still have a responsibility to deal with the pandemic and reality.
The reality is that Indiana County remains at “very high risk” of exposure to Covid-19. Commissioners Keith and Gorman need to participate in getting the message out, and to make sure that it is the right message: We are not yet heading in the right direction.
Ronald Riley, a native of Johnstown, is a retired accountant with 23 years of experience in health-care finance, including 18 years at Lee Hospital in Johnstown, where he was assistant controller. He has lived in Indiana, Pa., for 11 years.