Wayne County health officials have a map of where those who have tested positive for COVID-19 cases live, and they are seeing some clusters of illness along U.S. 40 and Indiana 1 byways.
Thus, they are looking for commonalities between the cases, and one theory they are exploring is that those patients could have visited gas stations or convenience stores where they might have been exposed to the virus.
Christine Stinson, Wayne County Health Department’s executive director, told Wayne County Council member this week she has visited gas stations along Indiana 1 and encouraged employees to make extra efforts in sanitation as a precaution such as increased cleaning of gas pumps.
Dr. David Jetmore, Wayne County health officer, said those needing to buy gas should grab a paper towel at the dispenser for windshield cleaning equipment, and then use the towel to grab the gas pump, and once done, discard the towel.
“It’s early to tell whether gas stations are implicated in this,” Stinson said. “It’s just something we’re seeing, and we’re really new in this epidemic to be able to make a sweeping case. We’re just seeing trending, and so we’re trying to get out and mitigate as much as we can. And when we see something that’s piquing our interest, like these clusters along these byways, what’s the commonality there? Gas stations was my thought.”
Even if they use a towel to hold a gas pump or other high-touch services such as gas station transaction keypads or door handles, that’s still not enough protection from the deadly COVID-19 virus.
Customers also are urged to wash their hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds after visiting gas stations or stores or using other high-touch surfaces. Handwashing is especially important before eating or touching one’s mouth, nose or eyes, Stinson said.
Stinson and Jetmore expect to see more cases of COVID-19, and want the public to understand that the illness is spreading in Wayne and surrounding counties.
“There’s a whole lot of people that are going to the doctor, but they don’t meet the matrix for testing, and the doctor feels like they have COVID-19 and directs them to go home and convalesce in their home,” Stinson said. “We know there’s a lot more than just four cases of COVID-19 in the community, but we are starting to see increases in the positive ones that are needing hospitalization from Wayne County.”
The best way to keep other Wayne County residents healthy is to stay home, especially those who have any potential symptoms such as a fever or cough. It’s imperative for those who have any symptoms to wear a mask before going out.
Government guidelines are also being modified to encourage anyone to cover their face with a mask or other cloth barrier to help prevent the spread of germs. Unlike other illnesses, COVID-19 can be shared by a seemingly healthy person by breathing within six feet of someone or by touching surfaces for five days before becoming ill.
Jetmore said he is proud of the efforts of area residents in physical distancing at least six feet away from others at local grocery stores when they must be out to get food or medicine, because the virus can last in the air for three hours. He said he’s also pleased people are taking this seriously, and many are making efforts to stay home.
Stinson and Jetmore said even though Wayne County is seeing an increase in cases every day it’s a slight increase, especially when compared to other nearby Indiana and Ohio counties.
“We are still doing a lot better than some of our surrounding counties,” Stinson said. “I believe that’s because we came out early with some directives, and we appreciate the executive branches of the community supporting the health department’s directives as far as closing some of the non-essential services before Governor Holcomb’s stay-at-home order came into effect.”
Stinson said Indiana is expecting cases to peak toward the end of April or middle of May, so it’s important to continue taking precautions for several more weeks.
“This is going to go on for a while – the peak is probably weeks ahead of us, maybe months, but we’ll get through this,” Jetmore said. “We’re doing all the right things.”
Stinson said even once the illness cases peak, that doesn’t mean the danger is over, but she expects to see a lifting of the stay-at-home order for less vulnerable populations.
Stinson said it’s important that churches are heeding state and local guidelines to keep people home for the foreseeable future and conducting services virtually, because she said several churches have been implicated in widespread outbreaks of the virus.
Several council members expressed appreciation for the efforts of Stinson, Jetmore and the county’s health care team.
Councilman Gary Saunders said the county didn’t intend to baptize Stinson or Jetmore by fire when they took on their jobs. Both just began their positions earlier this year.
“It’s been a baptizing by fire, that’s for sure,” Stinson said.

Watch the full meeting recorded by Whitewater Community Television.

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