ALBION — The Noble County Board of Health is up to its figurative ears in the coronavirus.
Meeting for the first time since Jan. 21, Tuesday’s teleconference meeting was dominated by the health crisis.
“It’s been all COVID-19, all the time,” Noble County Health Officer Dr. Terry Gaff said.
“This is crazy,” Noble County Nurse Cheryl Munson said. “It’s been exhausting.”
Munson reported that as of Tuesday, the county had seen 155 positive tests for the virus and 20 deaths.
All of the deaths had occurred at either the Sacred Heart Home in Avilla or Lutheran Life Village in Kendallville, according to Gaff.
Gaff said he remained concerned that loosening of the governor’s stay at home order may eventually lead to an “exponential” spike in the number of new cases.
Dr. Gerald Warrener not only sits on the health board, but is the medical director at Lutheran Life Village in Kendallville. Despite taking all appropriate precautions, the virus hit the facility. Warrener said workers did the best they could to isolate patients with the coronavirus, but it still spread.
“It got in,” Warrener said. “It started hopping from ward to ward.”
As of Tuesday’s meeting, Warrener said it had been 21 days since anyone who is a resident or worker at Lutheran Life Villages has tested positive.
Warrener asked Gaff for his thoughts on when it might be safe for Warrener to return to the facility.
Gaff’s recommendation was that Warrener, who is of an age where the impact of the virus can be more severe, should wait until adequate progress has been made on treatment and preventative measures.
“That may be a year from now,” Gaff said. “We don’t know where this virus is and isn’t.”
Food Sanitarian Linda Gray updated the board on the inspections being done at Noble County’s eateries. Any worker handling food is required to wear a face mask and gloves.
“We have restaurants that go above and beyond,” Gray said.
But there are places that have struggled with compliance.
She told the board of going to one fast food eatery — which she did not name — in which workers were not wearing masks and gloves. She told staff of the requirements, and then returned the next day with paperwork.
“I went back the next day... and they still were not doing it,” Gray told the board.
On her third visit, there were still issues. It wasn’t until she contacted the corporate office of the establishment that she saw compliance.
“We’re working on it,” Gray said of bringing everyone into compliance. “This is totally new.”
Warrener said from a health standpoint, he would personally be concerned if he saw workers at a food establishment not wearing masks and gloves while handling food.
Gaff said it is up to an individual’s preference whether they do business with a restaurant that is not following safety standards.
Anyone who sees a restaurant food handler not wearing a mask and gloves and can call the health department at 636-2191, which investigates such reports.
Warrener lauded the work done by Gaff during the crisis.
“I know it’s been stressful for you,” Warrener told Gaff. “I want to thank you.”
Gaff praised the entire staff at the health department.
The board also approved the budget it will submit to the Noble County Council later this summer. The total budget figure was $4445,997.09, with most line item budgets flat from a year ago. The budget does include a 2.8% salary increase for department employees, but County Coordinator Jackie Knafel told Health Department Registrar Amber Shively that it was unlikely raises would be granted at such a level.