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Washington County Health Officer Dr. Jeff Morgan is making recommendations to keep local schools safer during the recent Covid-19 increases. 

According to a letter Dr. Morgan sent to Washington County school administrators, his advice on Covid-19 is more strict in some cases than what the Indiana State Health Department released last week. 

In fact, Morgan is prepared to cancel all high school sports if the county moves to the “Red” category. 

A county is considered “Red” if the 7-day all positivity rate is 15% or greater. A county is considered “Orange” if the 7-day all positivity rate is between 10% to 14.9%

Washington County (along with many other counties around Indiana) was moved to Orange Status last week on the Indiana State Health Department Covid-19 map. 

Washington County is currently at a 14.92 percent 7-day All positivity rate. 

A look at the ISDH’s coronavirus map shows 87 of Indiana’s 92 counties are in the orange or red categories.

Morgan addressed administrators last week and encouraged them to move classes online and offered advice on extra-curricular activities including sports. 

Read Dr. Morgan’s Letter Here – morgan

Morgan said that all schools should move to a hybrid/virtual learning environment for middle and high school students. He said Pre-K and Elementary classes could remain in-person while the county is listed in the Orange status. 

Morgan also advised all grades to move to virtual education if the county moves to the “Red” status. 

Salem and East Washington are moving all grades to virtual education as of Monday, Nov. 16. 

West Washington Schools are moving Grades 7-12 online beginning Monday but will keep Pre-K thru Grades 6 in-person at this time. Superintendent Keith Nance said the middle and high schools will stay in virtual learning as long as the county is designated as “Orange” and would move all grades online if the county moves to “Red.”

Just a week ago, 74 of the state’s 92 counties were in the higher spread categories. One county was blue, while 17 were yellow.

Washington County has had 138 new Covid-19 cases since November 1 and those cases around the state continue to increase as people continue to shop and congregate in public without social distancing or wearing masks. 

Only five counties are in the yellow category, and zero are now considered blue.

Nine counties sit in the red category for high community spread:

  • Clay
  • Decatur
  • Fayette
  • Fountain
  • LaGrange
  • Newton
  • Perry
  • Union
  • Warren

Some health officials feel that more Indiana counties will be moving to the “Red” status. 

Thanksgiving break begins Nov. 25 and all Salem and East Washington are expected to return to in-person education on Monday, Nov. 30.

Morgan can and has instituted more strict guidelines than the state has done, and that includes limiting or canceling sports. 

Other requirements from Dr. Morgan:

  1. No assemblies or large group activities are allowed.
  2. Extra-curricular activities and any events with competitors/participants must have less than 50 people with strong recommendations to have no in-person attendees. 
  3. Social events outside of school and home should be limited. 

Although the Indiana High School Athletic Association and the Indiana State Department of Health provide advice to schools on continuing sports even during higher numbers, Morgan plans to cancel sports if Washington County moves to the Red status. 

“If in the situation that our county moves into the red category, all three county schools will be closed for in-person learning,” wrote Morgan. 

“All extracurricular activities would be canceled,” he wrote. “This is a stricter mandate than what ISDH has put out but is in the best health interest of our community. All information is subject to change at any time and all three county schools will be notified immediately of such changes.”

Morgan justified his stricter changes with three Indiana Codes — IC 16-20-1-24, IC 36-8-2-4 and IC 36-8-25.

Indiana Code 16-20-1-24 says:

  • Local health officers may order schools and churches closed and forbid public gatherings when considered necessary to prevent and stop epidemics.

Indiana Code 36-8-2-4 allows Morgan to regulate school activities: 

  • A unit may regulate conduct or use or possession of the property, which might endanger the public health, safety, or welfare.

Governor Eric J. Holcomb last week signed Executive Order 20-48 to implement pandemic requirements for all Hoosiers and targeted restrictions for counties that have high levels of COVID-19.

Holcomb said local governments may impose more restrictive guidelines.

“We must do all we can to protect our hospital capacity, so our health care professionals can protect and care for patients,” Gov. Holcomb said. “Not only for those who have COVID, but for the cancer patient, the heart patient, and the other Hoosier patients who need care in our urban, rural, and suburban hospitals all across the state of Indiana.”

The Indiana Department of Health established a color-coded county map that measures weekly cases per 100,000 residents and the seven-day positivity rate for all tests completed.

Each county is assigned a color based on the average of scores for the two metrics. Restrictions are assigned based on the map, which is updated each Wednesday at www.coronavirus.in.gov.

Click here for an in-depth description of the requirements for all Hoosiers and targeted restrictions for counties.

Among the requirements for Orange and Red are:

Orange: The county’s community spread is approaching high levels. These requirements are in effect when a county reaches the Orange metric and remains until a county moves to Yellow or Blue for two straight weeks.

  • Social gatherings of any kind, indoor or outdoor, are limited to 50 people.
  • A special, seasonal or commercial event for which more than 50 people will be in attendance, must submit a plan to the local health department at least seven days in advance and receive approval before proceeding. College and professional sports are included. This requirement is effective Nov. 22.

Red: The county has very high positivity and community spread. When a county is in the Red metric, these requirements remain in effect until the metric has returned to Orange or lower for two weeks.

  • Social gatherings of any kind, indoor or outdoor, are limited to 25 people.
  • A special, seasonal or commercial event for which more than 25 people will be in attendance, must submit a plan to the local health department at least seven days in advance and receive approval before proceeding. College and professional sports are included. This requirement is effective Nov. 22.

Regardless of a county’s color code, face coverings are required for all Hoosiers.

Businesses of all types are required to place clearly visible signs at their public and employee entrances notifying all that face coverings are required.

All customers in restaurants and bars are required to be seated. Tables, counters, or other seating arrangements must be spaced six feet apart.

The executive order takes effect on Sunday, Nov. 15 and runs until at least Saturday, Dec. 12.