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Indiana University cancels in-person classes, Region jails on alert amid coronavirus concerns
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Indiana University cancels in-person classes, Region jails on alert amid coronavirus concerns

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In-person classes at Indiana University Northwest in Gary — and all IU campuses across the state — are suspended from March 22 to April 5 to minimize the potential spread of the novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19.

Officials at the Lake County Jail also are discouraging in-person visits and are making additional preparations to prevent coronavirus from infecting the inmate population.

On Tuesday, IU President Michael McRobbie announced that university coursework during the two-week classroom shutdown will continue through online and virtual learning programs.

"These measures will undoubtedly cause inconvenience and disruption, yet the risks of not acting now far outweigh the foreseeable inconvenience and challenges of these actions," McRobbie said.

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"The steps that we are taking are necessary to help ensure the continuing good health of our community."

The 110,000-student university spread across nine campuses already was scheduled to be closed March 15 to 22 for spring break.

The resumption of in-person classes on April 6 is tentative depending on the health situation, McRobbie said.

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IU also is canceling all international and out-of-state travel associated or affiliated with the university for the next three weeks. Campus visits are strongly discouraged, as are campus events with more than 100 participants.

"While IU campuses will not be officially closed as part of this two-week time period, we ask for your patience as some services may be limited due to adjusted staffing levels," McRobbie said.

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No COVID-19 cases have been identified at any IU campus, McRobbie said. Though two students who recently returned from overseas to their hometowns outside Indiana have tested positive for coronavirus.

During the shutdown, the university is recommending students stay in their permanent homes away from campus, unless they are unable to return home because of travel restrictions or they need to leave home to access technology, such as reliable internet access, to complete their classes remotely.

The main Purdue University campus in West Lafayette also is canceling in-person classes indefinitely starting after the March 23 conclusion of spring break.

So far, Purdue University Northwest in Hammond and Westville, along with the state's other public universities, are not yet shifting from in-person instruction to online classes.

PNW campus leaders are set to meet Wednesday "to evaluate all implications as they impact Purdue Northwest students, and will make decisions that are appropriate for the PNW campuses."

Two new cases

The Indiana State Department of Health announced Tuesday that one resident each from Boone and Adams counties has tested positive for COVID-19.

That brings the state’s total number of confirmed coronavirus cases to six, all located in central and northeast Indiana.

Two of the Hoosiers with COVID-19 are in the hospital. The other four are in self-isolation, according to ISDH.

State health officials said they are working with the health departments in Adams, Boone, Hendricks, Marion and Noble counties to identify close contacts of the six individuals with coronavirus, and they are preparing for the possibility that additional related cases may occur.

All of the cases identified so far in Indiana have had a connection to another case. In total, 36 individuals have been tested for coronavirus in Indiana, ISDH said.

At this time, there are no confirmed COVID-19 cases in Northwest Indiana. Eighteen cases have been recorded in nearby Cook County, Illinois.

Hoosiers can track the spread of coronavirus in Indiana using a new online dashboard at on.in.gov/covid19.

Jail prepares

Lake County Sheriff Oscar Martinez told members of the Lake County Council on Tuesday that corrections staff is following the jail’s existing flu infection protocol to prevent the introduction of COVID-19 in the inmate population.

“They’re dealing with hundreds, almost a thousand people, in a confined space,” Martinez said. “Something like that could spread quickly inside a jail and infect everybody.”

Jail Warden Michael Zenk said the procedure calls for every inmate to be screened by a registered nurse at the jail intake.

“If we identify anybody that is experiencing flulike symptoms they get taken to the medical ward for testing,” Zenk said.

Since the beginning of flu season in November, Zenk said a total of 18 inmates have tested positive for the flu, which prompted their section of the jail to be quarantined from the general population during the incubation period to prevent the spread of the illness.

Zenk said the same policy will be followed if the jail ever encounters a suspected coronavirus case.

Specifically, he said if an inmate appears to have flulike symptoms, but tests negative for the flu, he or she will be transported to a hospital for coronavirus testing.

“We have a good infection-control policy,” Zenk said. “To date, that’s the only thing we’ve had to implement isolation and quarantine for is flu. There’s been no coronavirus incidents.”

Porter County police Cpl. Benjamin McFalls said the Porter County Jail similarly is conducting more rigorous health screenings upon inmate intake in light of the coronavirus risk.

In Lake County, the jail already prohibits in-person inmate visits in favor of video visits.

Martinez said effective immediately he’s also suspending volunteer visits to the jail and is encouraging attorneys to “use good judgment about coming into the facility based on their health condition.”

The sheriff said his department also has gone to extraordinary lengths to acquire items like medical masks, sanitizing wipes and hand sanitizer for county police and corrections officers, including purchasing a 55-gallon drum of hand sanitizer and dispensing it into smaller containers.

“Our first responders come in contact with a lot of people from a wide range of different areas of the county, and those people may be sick, carrying just a regular flu or the coronavirus,” Martinez said.

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