One of the toughest aspects of coping with the COVID-19 pandemic has been knowing whom to listen to, and whom to believe. The scientists? Economists? Politicians? Media? But during the lockdown, haven't we all been tempted to put down the newspaper, turn off the TV and hope someone else figures it all out?
The people who run local medical facilities, those who are making crucial decisions about the schools, and leaders trying to find a path forward for our local and regional economies don't have the luxury of throwing up their hands.
At a virtual gathering last week, our editorial board listened as leaders outlined how they've been approaching those concerns. We couldn't help but be encouraged by how seriously and thoughtfully Fort Wayne is engaging with them.
There are still more questions than answers about preventing and treating the novel coronavirus infection. But hospital officials here are confident about their ability to respond to whatever COVID-19 curves are thrown our way.
Doctors have a much clearer view of who's at risk. “That's the one thing I think we really do understand,” said Geoffrey Randolph, chief medical officer for IU Health Fort Wayne. “You can say that 90% of cases of people who actually died in the state were people 60 years of age or older.”
Dr. Vishal Bhatia, chief medical officer for Lutheran Health, said doctors here have been learning as they go along. “We don't have actual treatments for the disease. But we do know ... what the trajectory of the disease will be,” Bhatia said, “(and) how to take care of these patients.”
“Our level of preparedness is really at a completely different level than it was eight weeks ago,” said Dr. Jeffrey Boord, Parkview Health's chief quality and safety officer.
Competition between hospitals has always been part of the landscape of Fort Wayne medical care, but these leaders are speaking with one voice: It's dangerous to neglect serious medical conditions and it's unwise to forgo routine checks or vaccinations. Measures such as patient screening, temperature checks and universal masking should give patients more confidence their facilities are safe.
Other leaders have been focused on other priorities. “Our primary goal was to make sure that no one feared that their utilities were going to be cut off – to try to ease the fear of people losing their electricity, losing their natural gas or water source,” said Mayor Tom Henry. Next on the list was food, then trying to ensure no one lost housing during the crisis and ensuring there has been adequate shelter for the homeless.
Private foundations, which quietly undergird many community needs, share similar concerns. Meg Distler, executive director of St. Joseph Community Health Foundation, said food has become the top need her organization is being asked to address. Patti Hays, CEO of the AWS Foundation, said her group is sending out emergency grants that, among other goals, attempt to support agencies serving group homes.
Meanwhile, Allen County Commissioner Nelson Peters, Greater Fort Wayne President and CEO John Urbahns and Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership President and CEO John Sampson have been wrestling with how to get local businesses back into the ring after the one-two punch of their own shutdowns and the economic hit those businesses' customers absorbed.
Along with trying to ensure local businesses receive their share of state and federal emergency aid, Greater Fort Wayne has been working with county health officials on a series of online presentations offering guidance on safely reopening to specific types of businesses and organizations. More than 3,000 people registered for a webinar, Urbahns said.
The scope of serious problems facing school administrators should give pause to parents focused on high-visibility questions about the resumption of sports and other extracurricular activities. Northwest Allen County Schools Superintendent Chris Himsel said the biggest question, of course, is when and how to reopen school.
In the absence of clear national leadership, states and communities have found themselves making decisions largely on their own. Here, at least, that may prove to be the best way forward.
Varied as they are, many of these problems are interrelated, and people from many disciplines are working on them together here. You will continue to see their stories on our pages as we do our best to cover every aspect of our community's role in this historic time.