COVID pleas, Purdue tuition freeze, Mackey masks and WL superintendent contract revealed
Lafayette hospitals brace for a surge that already has them full. Purdue freezes tuition for 11th time. West Side school board releases contract, but no name, for next superintendent
Welcome to Lafayette Christmas Parade Saturday, where half the town lines Main Street to watch and the other half is marching in it. I’ll be in the half watching. It all steps off at 5:30 p.m. on Main Street, running from 11th to Second streets. I’ll see you there.
Until then …
HOSPITALS, THE LATEST COVID SURGE AND PLEAS ABOUT MASKS AT MACKEY ARENA
Doctors at Lafayette’s two hospitals said they were afraid they were sounding like a broken record. But the latest surge in COVID-19 in the state and the community – as of Friday, Tippecanoe County’s seven-day average was at 107 new cases a day, well past the peak of the summer surge and on par with January numbers on the back end of the biggest wave – has already doubled patients needing care.
And that’s before what they were anticipating would be the Thanksgiving effect, as cases requiring hospitalization typically running 10 to 14 days behind a run-up in detected cases in a community.
At Franciscan Health Lafayette, the hospital on Creasy Lane had 21 positive COVID cases on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and 41 on the Monday after, Dr. Daniel Wickert, vice president for medical affairs, said during a media call Friday. Of those, 45% were in the intensive care unit. (“That gives you a flavor of how serious they are (and) the challenge we’re facing,” Wickert said.)
A few miles away at IU Health Arnett, “I could probably just say ditto,” Dr. Christopher Mansfield, co-chief medical officer, said. The numbers: 22 on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and 45 on the Sunday after.
Both doctors said their hospitals were at capacity, working daily to find places for patients waiting for a bed so they could be admitted.
“It’s only, unfortunately, going to get worse,” Mansfield said.
A few takeaways from the pandemic front Friday:
The state report: The good news Friday was that the number of new COVID cases in Tippecanoe County dropped from Thursday’s report, according to the Indiana State Department of Health’s dashboard. The bad news: With 155 new cases in Friday’s report – compared to 172 on Thursday – that made three consecutive 100-plus days and five in a row with more than 95. At an average of 107 cases, the graph tracing seven-day averages has cleared the peak of 83 during the Delta variant-driven surge this summer.
Boosters and more: The doctors said that among those hospitalized, 90% to 92% have been unvaccinated. At the Tippecanoe County Health Department vaccine clinic, Khala Hochstedler, the county health department administrator, said that contact tracing is turning up a vast majority of cases among those who had not been vaccinated. (A day earlier, a frustrated Hochstedler told WLFI that people needed to start taking responsibility and that the health department couldn’t keep carrying them.) Hochstedler advised those older than 65 to get boosters and for families to check on relatives in nursing homes to make sure they’d been given a booster.
The doctors were asked whether they expected the surge-subside-surge pattern to be a new normal, with Tippecanoe County’s vaccination rate at about 56% and the state’s numbers no better.
Mansfield said: “If we want to curb this, whether we’re going to have another surge after we get over this one, in April or it’s going to be June or it’s going to be August (or) September, I think the roller coaster trend continues to happen until we vaccinate more of our population.”
How about those Boilermakers: Mansfield and Wickert, asked about sell-out crowds at Mackey Arena for the No. 2 Purdue men’s basketball team, said the hospitals had urged Purdue to enforce its campus indoor mask policy during games.
“If you take an enclosed arena that seats 14,000 strong, there is an increased risk. Period,” Mansfield said. “I love Purdue basketball … but that doesn’t mean we don’t need to be safe in our community. We don’t want a spreader-type event.”
In mid-November, Purdue President Mitch Daniels was pressed by faculty members who asked why the university wasn’t cracking down at Mackey. At the time, Daniels offered a written statement:
“The issue is one with which every school in the country with an indoor athletics program is faced. The majority of attendees at the basketball games are guests, not students, faculty or staff. Since we can’t eject thousands of people individually from the games, our option is to cancel the basketball season, which we would be reluctant to do.”
Mansfield, who said he goes to Purdue games, said that was sort of the point.
“You don’t have an 88% vaccination rate of everyone attending a Purdue basketball game,” Mansfield said, referring to the rate Purdue touts for its students, staff and faculty. “So, I by no means am saying shut down fans at Purdue basketball. Have fans. … Having a sign and carrying it up and down an aisle saying, ‘Wear your mask,’ doesn’t seem to be terribly effective. I think other messaging needs to go out. And we need to take some next steps to really lessen the potential spread.”
Wickert added a coda. He said the hospitals were two of many voices on conference calls with Purdue, which he called a great partner during the pandemic and that the community had come to trust “to make wise decisions in the past.” He said he expected Purdue would continue to make wise decisions.
County health department vaccine clinic hours: The clinic is at 1950 S. 18th St. (in the former YMCA, next to the Tippecanoe County 4-H Fairgrounds.) The hours are 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday, 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday, noon-5 p.m. Thursday and 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Friday. To find pharmacies and other sites offering vaccines, check ourshot.in.gov.
CONTRACT, BUT NO NAME, OUT FOR WEST LAFAYETTE SCHOOL SUPERINTENDENT
As some portions of West Lafayette stew over what they call a secretive search, the West Lafayette Community School Corp. board on Friday published a proposed three-year contract that laid out the salary and benefits – even a starting date – but no name for the district’s next superintendent.
According to a legal ad published in the Journal & Courier and a contract posted on the West Lafayette school site, the new superintendent would start Feb. 1, with a salary of $160,000 that would escalate by 3% over the next two years. The total, first-year package – once insurance, a car allowance, moving expenses and more are factored in – would be worth $243,149.
The school board set a 5 p.m. Dec. 13 public hearing at the former Happy Hollow Elementary, 1200 N. Salisbury St., to take comments on the contract. The board would have to wait seven days after that to vote on the contract. By state law, the board can wait until that final vote – in this case, tentatively set for Dec. 20 at Happy Hollow – to name its finalist.
Board President Alan Karpick said Friday that’s what the school board intended to do. He did not offer a name or comment on names that have been floated as the possible finalists. (See the story from Thursday for more on that.)
Karpick said that of the 17 initial applicants, nine were sitting superintendents who had asked for confidentiality. He said the board intended to honor that through the search.
The board has come under criticism from some parents and community members who said they wanted to have the names of finalists and town hall-style Q&A sessions to get to know them before the board hired someone. A petition calling for the district to start the search again had 264 signatures, as of Friday evening.
West Lafayette has been looking for a new superintendent since June, when Rocky Killion retired after 14 years from the district. Mike Pettibone has been the interim superintendent since July.
THIS AND THAT: THE PURDUE TRUSTEES EDITION
Just a few of the takeaways, all with big ramifications on the West Lafayette campus, after the Purdue trustees met in public Friday morning.
Tuition freeze, again: It doesn’t seem fair to give a big ho-hum to another tuition freeze – the 11th (!) one in a row – but this one was announced as a foregone conclusion, as trustees swiftly moved on to other business. The move would keep the base, in-state tuition at $9,992 a year through the 2023-24 academic year. Purdue already had extended the freeze through next year. But the freeze has been a calling card for President Mitch Daniels since he imposed the first one when he arrived on campus in January 2013. It means students on campus now, on four-year graduation tracks, wouldn’t see an increase in tuition by the time they graduate. As for a question he’s been fielding since Purdue’s second tuition freeze – How many more? – Daniels said: “Like always, we do it year by year. One thing I will say is, our enrollment people are pleased when we can announce before families get to decision-making time. Now a candidate entering Purdue next year would know what the cost is the first two years. It’s a little more certainty than you can have in other places.”
Bonuses and raises: Purdue faculty and staff will get $500 “appreciation payments” on the last check of December, according to a plan the trustees approved Friday. Chris Ruhl, Purdue’s chief financial officer and treasurer, said the university would put 4% into a merit raise pool for employees for the fiscal year that starts in July 2022. Another 1% pool would be available that fiscal year for staff recruitment and retention in "highly competitive in-demand jobs," including entry-level service staff, grad student stipends and faculty salaries “in selective disciplines.” Ruhl said the combination of the $500 bonuses and the combined 4% and 1% raise pools represented $50 million in pay.
Room and board: Purdue housing got socked when freshman enrollment went off the charts for the fall semester, with a record 10,000-plus new students. That had residence halls scrambling to reconfigure existing rooms on campus and find additional housing off-campus, often a bus ride away from the main campus and dining halls.
On Friday, trustees signed off on two master leases for 140 apartments/400 beds at Aspire – a complex on State Street, just across from a handful of dorms – and 32 apartments/126 beds at Fuse, an apartment building across from Mackey Arena. Rob Wynkoop, associate vice president of auxiliary services, said the contracts would be worth $1.25 million for Fuse and just over $5 million for Aspire and would give Purdue a jump on finding the necessary space for students next year. Beth McCuskey, vice provost for student life, said the complexes will be staffed with resident advisers and students would have campus meal plans. They also would have 10-month leases, as they do with campus residence halls, rather than 12-month leases that are standard with off-campus housing.
“This model works, and we’re thrilled they’re so close to campus,” McCuskey said. As for next year’s enrollment, Daniels said the university is looking at incoming classes that would be closer to the 8,000-student range – which, until this year, had been records of their own.
Trustees also agreed to a 10th year without an increase in room and board on campus. The predominant rate – factoring the most common room rates and meal plans – cost $10,030 a year, according to Purdue figures. Purdue claims that is the least expensive in the Big Ten, where similar rates range from $10,358 (Minnesota) to $17,019 (Northwestern).
Welcome, Dr. Adams: Trustees formally ratified Jerome Adams, former U.S. surgeon general, as a distinguished professor. Purdue hired Adams, who served as surgeon general during the Trump administration, this fall as the university’s first executive director of health equity initiatives. Adams also will hold appointments in Pharmacy Practice and Public Health and at the Regenstrief Center for Healthcare Engineering.
Adams was among the first hires in Purdue’s pledge to put $75 million toward a “cluster hire” initiative to bring in 40 full-time faculty, part of the university’s Equity Task Force efforts. Adams’ hire was part of bringing in 14 faculty in public health, including those concentrating on policy, equity, communications, nursing, pharmacy and nutrition.
“I’m really excited to be here and work with you all,” Adams told trustees. “Because we can take a lot of the great academic expertise here on campus and make sure we’re making maximum societal impact.”
Trustee Don Thompson, who led Purdue’s Equity Task Force, thanked Eric Barker, College of Pharmacy dean, for reaching out to Adams to recruit him.
“We sat on the Equity Task Force for a long time,” Thompson said to Barker and other deans in the room who had been part of a process started in spring 2020. “We talked so much about could we make a change, could we make an impact? Could we seek out talent that happened to be Black and make some inroads? So many conversations about cluster hires and what it did mean. You went out and found Dr. Adams. Thank you. We can do much. Purdue is a great place and a great place to be. We have to believe in ourselves first. We are able to seek out the best and the brightest.”
Afterward, Adams posted this as he made his way across campus:
For good measure, here’s a Q&A I had with Adams as he was getting settled into his role nearly a month ago:
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