Concerns over coronavirus (COVID-19) began to disrupt the daily routine in Montgomery County on Friday as schools announced closures and events were called off in an unprecedented effort to limit potential exposure to the virus.
All Montgomery County schools will be closed next week and begin e-learning, with districts in surrounding counties following suit. The City of Crawfordsville closed the utility payment window and more churches halted in-person worship services. Libraries canceled programs and museums closed or pushed back the start of their seasons.
“What we’re seeing right now with these closures and cancellations is what we refer to as mitigation and mitigation in this sense means we’re canceling events to avoid potentially exposing others, so we want to limit some of those gatherings that are… a large number of people so we can kind of slow this process down,” Montgomery County Health Department Administrator Amber Reed said during a midday appearance on “Hometown Happenings” on WCDQ (106.3 FM).
A list of cancellations is available at www.journalreview.com.
Some agencies said they were following the order issued Thursday by Gov. Eric Holcomb limiting non-essential gatherings to no more than 250 people. Holcomb said he expected additional steps would be necessary in the coming days.
Montgomery County had no confirmed cases of the virus as of early Friday evening, according to the Indiana State Department of Health. Statewide, there were 12 positive cases in eight counties and no deaths late this week.
President Donald Trump declared a national emergency Friday over the virus, opening up billions of dollars in federal aid to states.
Reed urged residents to rely on credible sources, such as the Centers for Disease Control or National Institutes of Health, for information about the pandemic.
“What we find is we’ve got two sides of this. People think it’s too far blown out of proportion or they’re completely panicked,” Reed said, “and we need people to find their way to the middle and just be aware of what we’re dealing with and then what we’re trying to do to mitigate it and make good decisions.
“A lot of this is just common sense and how we respond and react to it,” she added. “Panicking won’t fix it.”
The decision to shut down the schools came following a meeting between superintendents of the three county districts, who consulted with the health department. The CDC has advised schools to proactively close as one of the most effective non-pharmaceutical strategies to slow the spread of respiratory illness.
It will be the first time Crawfordsville schools have utilized e-learning. Superintendent Dr. Scott Bowling sought to assure school board trustees that the district was ready to take classes online and said the number of students without internet access was lower than expected.
“We’ve got a plan we can implement if we need to and it will still be a high-quality experience,” Bowling said Thursday evening, before the decision was announced. “We’re in pretty good shape there.”
The district later announced that students without access to a device could check out a computer from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday at Crawfordsville Middle School.
Districts canceled all school-related activities and extra-curricular events. Breakfast and lunch will be served to students during the closure at designated sites, which were announced to parents.
Spring break will be observed as scheduled throughout the county.
Following the announcement, the Boys & Girls Club of Montgomery County called off programming but said regular business hours would continue next week. The club already planned to be closed during spring break. Officials said they would determine after the break when the club will re-open.
Local higher education communities are also being impacted by the virus. Wabash College announced in-person classes would be halted through at least March 27. Students had been scheduled to return from spring break on Monday. Ivy Tech Community College delayed the start of all classes until March 23 and will then conduct courses online through April 5.
Governments were monitoring the situation and remained in contact with health experts. Montgomery County Administrator Mark Casteel said midday Friday that county offices remained on a normal schedule.
“We’re just trying to plan to have things in place but not cause panic,” he said.
In Fountain County, residents experiencing flu-related symptoms or those who had exposure to someone with a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19 were ordered to call ahead before visiting the courthouse.
Weekend events were put on hold. Psi Iota Xi canceled its annual Everyone Reads event scheduled for Saturday at the Crawfordsville District Public Library. The library planned to remain open and Saturday’s book sale was expected to go on, but all other events have been canceled until April 6.
Saturday’s Pi Day celebration at the Carnegie Museum of Montgomery County was also called off. The museum will be closed through April 4.
For the first time in the event’s 60-year history, the Crawfordsville Kiwanis Club’s Pancake Day fundraiser Thursday was postponed. A new date will be announced later and tickets already purchased will be honored at the rescheduled event, club president Jerry Dreyer said.
“We’re not being reactionary, rather we’re trying to be protective of the community, particularly the elderly and those whose health might not be optimal,” Dreyer said. “Historically, this has been a big part of our customer base.”
The change left organizers with gallons of liquid egg that would have likely expired before the event could be rescheduled. The food was donated to Trinity Life Ministry and the Family Crisis Shelter.
Journal Review reporter Nick Wilson contributed to this report.