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County to open drive-thru COVID-19 testing site as community marks fourth death

A new COVID-19-specific testing site will soon open on First Street.

Thanks, in part, to a grant obtained by the Knox County Health Department and in partnership with Good Samaritan Hospital and Vincennes University, the drive-thru testing site will be located in the old surgery center at 300 N. First St. as early as next week, according to county health officer Dr. Alan Stewart.

Good Samaritan Hospital’s Board of Governors on Thursday, during their regular monthly meeting, approved purchase of the building — most recently a dialysis center — for $875,000.

GSH CEO Rob McLin said he thought purchasing the 9,800-square-foot building an “opportunity we can’t pass up.”

“As an organization, as we continue to grow, this will allow us to offer additional services to our patients in the community,” he said.

“There are a multitude of different options that we want to pursue and look for in terms of utilizing that building,” he went on. “We’ll consider them all over the next 3-6 months.

“But the starting point will be use as a COVID-19 testing site.”

Stewart, earlier this month announced that the Knox County Health Department had applied for — and would likely receive — a $100,000 state grant, money that would help to fund a drive-thru testing clinic.

Initially, he thought the clinic would likely open at the immunization clinic, located at 305 S. Fifth St.

But then the opportunity to use the former surgery center presented itself, and he thought it an even better site.

“It’s a nice building,” said Stewart of the location. “It’s ideal for this clinic because it has ample parking, a canopy already for the drive-thru, and it’s within walking distance of Vincennes University.

“We’re all really exited about it.”

The state grant will go to pay for the computer software upgrades necessary to run the clinic, Stewart said, as well as three part-time nurses to help staff it.

State funding would also cover the necessary test swabs and the cost of a courier to take them to and from the nearest lab.

As per guidelines associated with the grant, the clinic needs to be open at least five days a week, Stewart explained, as well as some “non-traditional hours” and on weekends.

The grant money will help fund the clinic through the end of June 2021, should it be necessary.

Stewart has said he isn’t clear on all the details, but he expects he will able to issue a sweeping physicians’ order for anyone who wants a test at the drive-thru clinic.

But to narrow it down and not overwhelm staff, he’s likely to request phone-ahead screenings and, possibly, appointments.

Stewart, too, is hopeful that better, faster testing will soon be available.

A saliva test with a quicker turnaround is already being tested in other markets.

“It’s coming down the pipe, and hopefully we’ll have that in the very near future,” he said.

Commissioners Kellie Streeter and Trent Hinkle actually voted against the hospital’s purchase of the building Thursday.

Streeter, commission president, said she thought it “a wise business move,” just at the wrong time.

“With the current environment, with COVID-19 and without a sure plan for the building even though there are many options, I just didn’t feel it was the right time to be purchasing a piece of property,” she said.

“However, I do think it was a smart purchase and one we’ll most likely use in the future.”

• • •

Knox County recorded its fourth COVID-19 death on Thursday as a second resident at Lodge of the Wabash, a local nursing home, died from complications, according to Stewart.

The county also recorded eight new cases of the novel coronavirus, bringing the total confirmed now to 311.

More than a dozen remain hospitalized.

Stewart, too, said many of the cases are from a “major employer,” although he is so far declining to name the business.

He said there have been multiple cases resulting from that business’ rather lackadaisical approach to safety standards.

Complaints against that business, Stewart said, have been filed by the state.

“And we’re addressing it,” he said matter-of-factly.

Local schools, Stewart added, continue to fare well.

The Vincennes Community School Corp. reported five cases at Lincoln High School earlier this month but have no active cases now.

The North Knox School Corp. is reporting six active cases at the Jr. Sr. High School and another two cases at the Intermediate School, while South Knox is reporting four cases at the Middle High School.

There have been no cases reported at Vincennes Catholic Schools, Stewart said.

Commissioners heading back to the table today to discuss solar ordinance

The Knox County Commissioners will meet in special session today to continue moving forward with the development of a new solar ordinance.

Commission president Kellie Streeter said the commissioners will meet this afternoon solely to discuss the proposed solar ordinance, which would pave the way for solar development in Knox County as at least two companies are already pursuing land leases for the construction of solar farms here.

Streeter said they will have attorneys from Barnes and Thornburg, Indianapolis, on the phone today to get some answers to questions they have following now weeks of discussions surrounding the proposed legislation — questions that may lead to additional changes, she said.

“We have some points we want to talk through with them,” she said of Barnes and Thornburg. “This meeting will give us the opportunity to ask our advisors some questions and address some points that have been posed to us.

“Then we’ll have to see if we want to approve the ordinance as it stands or amend it yet again. We may approve it. We may not.”

Streeter added that Barnes and Thornburg has not been drafting any potential amendments to the legislation, so if the commissioners opt to make some, those will have to be written and added to the ordinance as part of a third draft.

The commissioners previously changed the buffer — or the distance between solar panels and the nearest structure — to 200 feet. The original draft said 100 feet.

A possible third draft would then go back before members of the Area Plan Commission — they meet at 6 p.m. on Tuesday at Knox County Circuit Court — for consideration.

If they give it another favorable recommendation, it would then come back before the commissioners for final approval.

Solar developers in recent weeks have raised relatively minor concerns about language in the proposed ordinance.

Dan Farrell, a project development manager with Miami-based Origis Energy, and local resident Kent Utt, who is now serving as a consultant for Tenaska, another solar company located in Nebraska, spoke before APC members earlier this month as they considered the legislation.

Farrell, for instance, wants to lessen the financial burden on solar companies by delaying the establishment of a decommissioning security bond until years after the solar farm is constructed.

Utt, too, asked that the county consider allowing for a preliminary permit, of sorts, so solar companies aren’t out hundreds of thousands of dollars in engineering costs only to see the county decline an application later.

Both the commissioners and APC members have acknowledged that they are valid concerns and seemed open to amending the ordinance to reflect them.

Streeter, too, said it had been brought to her attention that the ordinance, in its current form, doesn’t include any language on potential environmental hazards posed by solar farms.

“So those are also some points I want to talk with (legal) counsel about,” she said.

The commissioners will meet to discuss the legislation at 1:30 p.m. today in the commissioners room at the Knox County Courthouse.

There is no other business on the agenda; residents with questions about the solar ordinance are encouraged to attend.

Hospital CEO: Seek help if you're sick

Good Samaritan Hospital continues to fare well amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

CEO Rob McLin, following a brief meeting of the hospital’s board of governors Thursday afternoon, said the hospital continues to operate at about 90% of its pre-COVID volume.

The hospital is “really busy,” he said, and while they are seeing more COVID-19 patients — there were 13 reported there on Wednesday — they’re also seeing other patients, ones who are “really sick” with other illness.

McLin’s worry: that those patients waited too long in seeking treatment for ailments during the shutdown.

“I want to encourage people not to hold back or hold off if you’re not feeling well,” he said. “There’s no need to.

“You can feel comfortable in coming to the hospital or going your healthcare provider. Don’t wait too long and allow something to become catastrophic.”

Medical staff continue to screen every visitor coming into the hospital — taking temperatures and asking a list of questions to determine the risk of exposure — and people are only allowed in through the Health Pavilion, located on the Willow Street side.

Hospital patients, McLin explained, are only allowed one visitor at a time with the exception of the obstetrics unit; new moms are allowed two at a time, he said.

And despite the continuing rise of local COVID-19 cases, McLin said a second full hospital lockdown isn’t likely.

“At this stage, we’re comfortable with the policy we have in place,” he said. “We really respect that patients need people, family with them.

“Taking that away from them, I don’t think, is beneficial to the patient or to the healing process.”

McLin also said recent spread of COVID-19 amongst hospital employees is now under control, and that crews are cleaning on a “continual basis” to protect hospital employees and patients.

“We’re restricting visitors. We’re deep cleaning all the time,” he said.

“Really, this is the cleanest and safest place you can be.”