The Journal Gazette
Thursday, July 30, 2020 1:00 am

Myers worried by school reopenings

Candidate faults state response as virus cases grow


Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dr. Woody Myers, making a campaign stop in Fort Wayne on Wednesday and today, said he's “very worried” about reopening schools in Indiana.

In an interview with The Journal Gazette, Myers said he's not convinced it's safe, especially in urban areas where COVID-19 remains prevalent.

“I'm very worried. I'm worried about the uptick,” he said, adding he has changed his opinion from a couple of months ago, when he thought the state's plan – with hybrid classes, spread-out seating in classrooms and assigned seating on buses – could work.

“Now I am not confident, because of the number of areas the past couple of weeks that have seen increases” in cases, Myers said. “It makes me want to push the pause button ... until we see the numbers coming down.”

A medical doctor who formerly served as Indiana's health commissioner, Myers also took aim at the current administration's reaction to COVID-19 in Indiana's nursing homes, calling it “slow.”

Earlier this month, he and his running mate for lieutenant governor, Linda Lawson, released a plan for changes in how the state deals with nursing homes and called for a long-term-care task force to develop and implement best practices.

Myers said nursing homes had problems obtaining personal protective equipment and that staff members “don't get the same respect” as hospital caregivers.

“The staff are heroes,” Myers said.

He criticized the current administration for, at first, not releasing nursing home data, and then, not releasing it publicly by facility, as was done in other nearby states, including Kentucky and Michigan.

And he said the epidemic got out of hand in part because the state has a “creaky” and confusing reporting system that some nursing homes had complained about for some time.

While he would not mandate daily testing for staffs or patients, he would dedicate funding that would prioritize nursing homes for frequent testing and provide rapid results so the data is not useless.

He pointed out that recent statistics show half the Hoosier deaths from the coronavirus were connected to nursing homes.

As for schools, Myers said in some rural areas, such as Warren, Vermilion and Jay counties, where the cases remain low, reopening is possible. But in more urban areas – Indianapolis, Gary, East Chicago – “I worry,” he said.

Myers considers Fort Wayne something of a hybrid because it is urban but has not seen the number of cases seen elsewhere, aides said.

But he called for statewide flexibility – and caution.

“Education is important ... but I am not comfortable about it (reopening schools) in the urban areas,” Myers said. “Let's not do it until they get a sustained drop.”

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