La PORTE — With the number of positive COVID-19 cases surging across America – including locally – La Porte County leaders are urging residents to be more vigilant than ever in protecting themselves and others.

On Wednesday, the La Porte County Board of Commissioners received an update from Health Department administrator Tony Mancuso, who reported the county saw 19 new confirmed COVID-19 cases on Tuesday – the largest single-day increase in weeks.

Nine of those cases were inmates at the Westville Correctional Facility – the site of a massive coronavirus outbreak in April.

The local figures are in line with other parts of America, as many states, including Indiana, begin to scale back reopening plans in response to a spike in COVID-19. Among states seeing a recent uptick in positive cases are several of Indiana’s neighbors, including Michigan, Ohio and Illinois.

Although Indiana is not seeing a dramatic increase, Gov. Eric Holcomb announced he was pumping the brakes on the fifth and final stage of his reopening plan, slated to begin Saturday.

Instead, much of the state will enter “Phase 4.5,” which will keep current caps on public gatherings and occupancy limits for restaurants, bars and entertainment venues. This phase is set to last through July 17.

Speaking to the commissioners via Zoom, Mancuso said the recent growth in local cases comes as a growing number of residents are undergoing testing.

“Each day, we’re getting probably 100 tests,” he said. “That could be the reason we have a spike [in cases], but at least we’re getting a lot of tests done.”

Mancuso added that, despite the increase, there have not been any new outbreaks in local assisted living centers or nursing homes, which were hotspots in the previous surge. Local contact tracing is also going smoothly, he said.

Dr. Kristen Dauss, chief medical officer for the Indiana Department of Correction, also spoke to the commissioners remotely. She confirmed that Westville had around 18 inmates test positive in recent days, but they remain asymptomatic and have been placed in quarantine alongside others on their holding units.

Board President Sheila Matias remains concerned about the current trajectory of the pandemic.

With local beaches, bars and other social gathering spots packed since reopening, Matias is troubled by the fact that many residents appear to be ignoring federal prevention guidelines on social distancing and crowd sizes, she said.

She is also worried that some chose to not wear face coverings in public, especially those who chose not to do so for political reasons.

“Science is science, and the science is pretty clear, whether you are this party or that party, whether you are left or right,” Matias said.

She urged residents to continue practicing basic precautions – wearing masks, maintaining at least 6 feet of distance from others when possible, and using good hand washing hygiene.

Citizens have a civic responsibility to follow the guidelines, Matias said, as they help keep themselves, their families and their neighbors – particularly those with underlying health conditions – healthy during this perilous period.

“As Americans, we are used to tough challenges,” she said. “Those tough challenges have created the sinew that makes America strong, that makes Americans resilient. Across the world, people talk about our creative spirit and our resilience. That’s what we need now.”

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