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Knox County returns to orange

After two weeks in blue, Knox County this week returned to the orange designation on Indiana’s COVID-19 dashboard.

For several days, local positivity rates and active case numbers dipped, but by the middle of last week, Knox County Health Officer Dr. Alan Stewart was urging caution as he watched numbers creep up again.

“When we hit blue it was like everyone was doing this high-five thing, but that was premature,” Stewart said. “Really, our blue numbers may have just been a statistical anomaly from a delay of recording the cases quickly at the state combined with a couple of days of low case numbers.”

The county saw 50 new cases in a single day late last week. Currently there are 105 active cases, and Knox County has a 10.5% positivity rating, up significantly from recent weeks of positivity rates below 5%.

Stewart, too, says he expects a post-Thanksgiving surge across the county and state, as has become the norm after holidays and large events.

“People really need to be careful during the holidays,” he said. “If you have anyone who is vulnerable, like someone with a chronic illness, see that all of your guests are vaccinated. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.”

Vaccinations, including booster doses, are the best way to prevent spread during large family gatherings over the next several weeks, noting that while masking is effective, it’s not practical in this kind of scenario.

“I would also be really careful with travel and with having out-of-town guests,” he added.

While Stewart anticipates an upturn in the number of COVID-19 cases during, and immediately following, the holidays, he’s cautiously optimistic about the new year.

“I expect a little bit of an uptick at the holidays, but then after that I hope to see us really go down in cases,” he said.

Though too late for most Thanksgiving gatherings, Stewart says there is still time to be vaccinated for the first time, or to receive a booster dose, before Christmas.

His advice to be vaccinated, he says, extends to young people, too.

While the vast majority of children and young adults who contract COVID-19 come through relatively unscathed, it can prove fatal to some.

“The odds of getting very ill are very slim the younger you are, but when you are that one, it’s devastating,” Stewart said.

The health officer says he is pleased to see an increase in the number of individuals seeking the first dose of the COVID vaccine.

“It’s encouraging.

“It means people have kind of looked around at what’s been happening and reconsidered,” he said.

Initial doses of the vaccine are available to all adults and to children ages five and older.

All adults who are six months or more beyond the second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines are now eligible for a booster dose.

Both the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently approved booster doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine for all adults 18 and over, opening up booster shots to tens of millions of people across the country.

Those seeking a COVID-19 vaccine are encouraged to visit the health department on Monday, Wednesday or Friday — with Tuesdays and Thursdays being reserved specifically for childhood immunizations.

In addition to its regular business hours, the department will offer COVID vaccinations the first Saturday of each month from 10 a.m. until noon.

To schedule COVID-19 vaccinations, visit KCHDCovidClinic.as.me or call 812-882-8080.

First City Sculpture Exhibition 2021 taking shape

Residents enjoying a chilly autumn stroll in Gregg Park this week may notice more than the park’s towering trees, thanks to the continuation of a project sponsored by the Northwest Territory Art Guild.

The First City Public Sculpture Exhibition 2021 is beginning to take shape as three of nine new outdoor sculptures have been erected in the city this week.

Last winter, during the first year of the new public sculpture program, the exhibit featured seven outdoor pieces by artists from across the nation.

Now, nine additional ones are being added — three at Gregg Park, three at Vincennes University, one at the Vincennes Tourism Bureau, one at Fireman’s Park, and an additional sculpture will be added to the already existing exhibit on the Riverwalk.

On Monday afternoon, the 14 feet tall sculpture “Fitzroy’s Guitar” was hoisted into place by Indiana artist Alex Mendez and a small team of volunteers.

The 500 pound steel sculpture, at first glance, is merely a tower of simple shapes and wavy lines painted an oceanic blue, but viewing it from a distance reveals the whole to be a guitar — one with a neck of only a few frets.

The sculpture is, perhaps, paying homage to the humble beginnings of jazz guitarist Fitzroy Coleman who, as a boy, built his own version of a guitar by nailing a pan to a plank of wood and stringing it to make music.

Mendez, too, is a musician and has said “just a few notes can make a simple melody; simple forms come together to make an instrument,” which is something seen in the simple, yet larger than life, guitar now situated in Gregg Park.

A continued walk through the park will also bring residents to Illinois artist Bill McGrath’s sculpture “Angles, Shadows 2.”

And Ohio artist Shawn Morin’s 2020 sculpture “Courage Under Fire” has been aptly placed in Fireman’s Park.

As with the placement of the 2020 sculptures, organizers say the sites of each piece have been selected because of their aesthetic surroundings.

“We want the sculptures to add to the environment and the environment to add to the sculptures as well,” said Andrew Jendrzejewski, one of the exhibits organizers.

And, based on feedback received so far, residents have taken notice of how the site selection for each sculpture has an impact on the work itself and its surrounds.

“We’ve had individuals say that they felt like the sculptures themselves are interesting, but also that they made them see the environment differently,” said local artist Amy DeLap.

Too, she adds, residents have noted that they appreciate having sculptures out where they are accessible in daily life, as opposed to being housed in a gallery.

More than a year ago, the local art guild, a non-profit organization located at 316 Main St., selected Jendrzejewski and DeLap — both retired Vincennes University art professors and the owners of Art Space Vincennes LLC — to lead the First City Public Sculpture Exhibition.

Thanks to a grant from the Indiana Arts Council and a financial gift from the Vincennes City Council, as well as individual donations, DeLap and Jendrzejewski were able to put out a national call to artists for large sculpted works to be installed at sites around the city for the 2020 exhibit.

With various funding sources agreeing to support the project once again, the committee was able to review dozens more proposals submitted from all over the United States, all of them clamoring to be part of the 2021 show.

Using a high traffic online arts platform to reach artists across the nation, DeLap said they received sculpture proposals from artists living as far away as New Jersey and New Hampshire.

But three of the selected sculptures for this year’s exhibit have been created by Indiana artists — including the Alex Mendez, as well as his brother Greg Mendez, whose sculpture will be placed outside of the tourism bureau on Sixth St.

As with the sculptures installed in 2020, each one included this year will be on loan from the artist for a three-year period, but with an option for a business or individual to buy the artwork and therefore have it permanently placed in Vincennes.

The group originally intended to have all of the large sculptures installed by the end of August, but a delay on the pouring of concrete bases for each piece pushed that back three months. However, organizers hope all nine will be in place by year’s end, with plans for a celebration in the spring of 2022.

“It was unfortunately delayed, but I am so excited and so relieved it’s coming together now,” DeLap said cheerfully. “This is kind of the pinnacle.”

Indiana lawmakers delay bill restricting COVID-19 mandates

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana’s governor announced Wednesday he would extend the state's public health emergency for another month amid a stalled legislative proposal that would force businesses to grant COVID-19 vaccination requirement exemptions without any questions and block similar immunization rules set by state universities.

Lawmakers were scheduled to meet in a special session next week to vote on the fast-track bill. But leaders called the plan off following a joint meeting between committees in the House and Senate Tuesday that included nearly seven hours of heated public testimony after which lawmakers failed to reach an agreement on the bill.

The proposal, first released Saturday by leaders of the Republican-dominated Legislature, would reject an appeal from the state’s largest business organization to leave such decisions up to employers and strike against Indiana University’s student vaccine mandate that a U.S. Supreme Court justice let go into effect.

The bill was set on an extraordinary fast track for approval, with a single public hearing Tuesday at the Statehouse. The House and Senate were then scheduled to vote on final approval six days later on Nov. 29.

Republican House Speaker Todd Huston and Senate President Pro Tempore Rodric Bray said in statements Wednesday that they now plan to address concerns about vaccine mandates and the necessary Indiana law changes needed to end the state emergency when lawmakers reconvene for the regular session in January.

Bray noted that the logistics of moving legislation to the floor during a time when the General Assembly is not typically in session and the “need for the public and members of the General Assembly to fully vet the legislation” necessitated holding the bill for further consideration until legislators meet again on Jan. 4.

Huston has said he believed “we need to move forward” after so much time under the public health emergency, which was set to expire Dec. 1.

“To be clear, House Republicans remain resolved to take quick action this session to help end the state of emergency and protect Hoosiers against the federal government’s unprecedented overreach,” Huston said in a statement Wednesday. “While most Indiana companies are acting in good faith, it’s unacceptable that some employers are blatantly disregarding well-established vaccine exemptions, and we’ll address these issues through legislation."

Lawmakers heard contentious testimony Tuesday from employees with medical or religious objections who maintained they’re wrongly being asked to choose between complying with a COVID-19 vaccine mandate and losing their jobs. Employer testimony included concerns over who would be responsible for COVID testing for workers, and whether changes to state law would conflict with federal regulations.

Numerous Indiana medical and business groups have also argued that the proposal wrongly sends a message that the coronavirus pandemic is over at a time when Indiana’s infections and hospitalizations are rising again.

The hearing followed a request from Gov. Eric Holcomb last week for lawmakers to approve three administrative actions that he said would allow him to end the statewide COVID-19 public health emergency order that’s been in place since March 2020, even amid a recent rise in COVID cases and hospitalizations in Indiana and other Midwestern states.

His proposal also included provisions that would give workers broad exemptions from employer vaccine mandates amid a national conservative pushback against President Joe Biden’s mandates.

“Last week I made clear what would be necessary to responsibly allow the state public health emergency to expire,” the Republican governor said in a statement Wednesday. “I will continue to work closely with Speaker Huston and Senator Bray as we move into next legislative session.”

Holcomb has criticized Biden’s vaccine requirements for businesses, saying he supports the rights of businesses to make their own decisions. The governor didn’t directly comment Tuesday on whether he had discussed the vaccine requirement limits in the bill before legislative leaders released the draft and said he wanted time to talk with them about it.

Senate Democratic Leader Greg Taylor said in a statement Wednesday he was “glad” that the Republican caucus halted the bill, noting that the issue “should be discussed and considered before our full Legislature … instead of unnecessarily being pushed through.”

“We are legislators, not doctors, and we should not be legislating medicine,” Taylor said. “This delay will allow us the necessary time to hear from the full medical community about the importance of the COVID-19 vaccine and how it is saving lives."


Associated Press writer Tom Davies contributed to this report.


Casey Smith is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

The great pumpkin pitch
  • Updated

As autumn colors and decor are replaced with twinkly lights and garland, many families are left wondering what to do with their small mound of front porch pumpkins.

With nearly half of all American households purchasing decorative pumpkins, hundreds of millions are destined for the landfill or dumped in rivers, streams and forests each year.

Local environmental experts say there may be a better alternative for the festive squash.

“Compost them,” says Master Naturalist Terri Talarek King, noting that composting is something individuals can do year-round. “People can still be putting all kinds of good things in the compost this time of year,” she added.

The large fruits can take awhile to break down in a compost pile or bin, but cutting it into smaller pieces will aid the process.

Though composting pumpkins, without removing the seeds, could very well lead to a small pumpkin patch growing out of the compost heap later on.

Too, says King, pumpkins can be set out for birds and other wildlife to enjoy as a food source.

“I had a couple of friends who, before Halloween, carved faces in some pumpkins and went out the next day and a squirrel had altered them,” she said with a laugh.

Knox County’s Natural Resource Specialist, Will Drews, echoed the idea, noting that “raccoons and many other critters” enjoy feasting on pumpkins this time of year.

However, both King and Drews say there is one significant exception to bear in mind — chemicals.

“Some pumpkins are treated with chemicals like bleach and chlorine in order to make them last longer, and those are the pumpkins you don’t want to leave out anywhere that wildlife could eat them,” said Drews.

But the possibility of such harsh chemicals is only one reason Drews says the leftover jack-o-lanterns shouldn’t be tossed into streams or rivers.

Pumpkins, like any organic matter, can’t properly decompose in water and depletes the water of oxygen as the waste attempts to decompose. That imbalance can then potentially affect fish and other aquatic life.

“So even if the pumpkin isn’t treated, don’t throw it in the river — you don’t ever want to dump anything in the river, even if it’s organic,” he emphasized.

Pumpkins that haven’t been treated with chemicals to preserve their shelf life can, however, be disposed of in a variety of ways beyond composting or leaving them for all manner of wild, furry creatures to nibble.

Anyone with chickens, turkeys or ducks can feed the fruit to their poultry, which provides a good source of vitamins A, B, C, E and zinc.

Those who didn’t carve their pumpkins may also find they still have time to cut them open and harvest the pumpkin seeds, which can be roasted and eaten as a high protein and calcium-filled snack.

For those who don’t have a compost heap but would like to dispose of the pumpkin without sending it to the landfill in a plastic garbage bag, simply burying it is a more environmentally friendly approach. All manner of worms and microbes will begin the process of breaking it down and turning it into rich soil.

The trick, says Drews, is ensuring that the pumpkin is, in fact, all natural and does not contain potentially harmful chemicals — something most residents won’t know for sure without inquiring with their local farmers and retailers.

“Unfortunately,” said Drews, “if you don’t know if the pumpkin has been treated with chemicals, it’s best to just throw it away,” he added.