Purdue: Rebuild ‘campus bubble,’ no COVID delay for spring semester
Plus, COVID numbers continue to hit new highs. Rapid tests rationed in Indiana. WL floats sewer rate increase. And, did you spot the snowy owl near Lafayette?
Thanks this morning goes to the Long Center for the Performing Arts for its ongoing support of the Based in Lafayette reporting project. The Long Center recently announced its “100 Years of Film” series, to mark the theater’s anniversary, first opening as the Mars Theatre in 1921. For more scroll to the bottom of today’s edition.
PURDUE LOOKS TO REBUILD ‘CAMPUS BUBBLE,’ BE BACK FOR SPRING CLASSES
Any questions that Purdue might join some other U.S. campuses and open the spring semester with virtual classes or delayed starts, due to a spike in COVID cases, were dismissed Tuesday.
Purdue issued a letter that afternoon from the Protect Purdue Implementation Team, the group that has been ushering the West Lafayette campus through the pandemic.
The upshot: Purdue will “turn our attention to rebuilding our ‘campus bubble’ during the coming weeks as we return from across the country and around the world.” Classes are scheduled to start next week on a campus that set a university enrollment record with more than 49,000 students and dorms that were reconfigured to put extra beds in some rooms.
From the letter:
“In the fall, we had hoped and expected to reduce some safety requirements early this semester, but the emergence of the Omicron variant has forced us to delay any such easing, at least for a while. Rather, we all need to renew our commitment to the Protect Purdue Pledge …
“As we look ahead, we again do so with less certainty than anyone would prefer, but with reassurance that Boilermakers want to be on campus and have demonstrated a willingness to do what is necessary to operate safely and without interruption.”
Some of the particulars:
Purdue President Mitch Daniels last semester said he hoped to lift campus mask mandates outside the classrooms and labs by Feb. 1. That's gone, for now. Face masks will remain in indoor spaces, “regardless of vaccination status.”
Purdue also recommends "all Boilermakers should consider purchasing higher quality face masks – N95, KN95 – for enhanced protection, especially in the beginning of the semester."
The letter pleaded with students, staff and faculty who haven’t been vaccinated to get the shots. Same went for those who are vaccinated but hadn’t received the booster. Purdue touts an 88% combined vaccination rate for students, staff and faculty; those who don’t show the university that they are vaccinated will still need to go through routine COVID testing, as they did during the fall 2021 semester.
The team asked people not to come to campus if they were feeling sick or had been exposed to COVID-19. “Particularly for our students living in University Residences,” the letter read, students who have COVID or are experiencing symptoms should stay home and contact the Protect Purdue Health Center to get instructions.
“As the pandemic becomes endemic, the number of positive cases by itself becomes a less informative indicator of the health of our campus and our ability to protect Purdue,” the university’s letter said. “That said, we will continue to consider, evaluate and modify our approach based on many factors including positive cases, case severity, availability of and our ability to deliver campus resources and community trends.”
On campus, Purdue’s testing site has reported an increased positivity rate in the past week that, while not as high as those across the state, mirror the trends. In the most recent report Tuesday, Purdue’s positivity rate was just over 13% — by far the highest since the start of the 2021-22 academic year.
MEANWHILE, IN BLOOMINGTON …
Same story for Indiana University. The university sent a notice Tuesday, confirming that its spring semester would start in person, as scheduled.
From the IU announcement:
“This carefully considered decision, with the health and well-being of IIU community members in mind, is the result of IU’s continued commitment to monitoring COVID-19 data and managing our response with guidance from the latest science. Through vaccination, boosters and masking, we will accomplish our core mission of teaching and research while aggressively managing the health and safety of our campus communities.”
IN TIPPECANOE COUNTY, COVID NUMBERS UP, AGAIN, PUSH INTO NEW HIGHS
The three largest single-day COVID new case totals of the pandemic have come in the past week for Tippecanoe County. That included 296 new cases reported in Tuesday’s update from the Indiana State Department of Health. The two days with more cases came Dec. 29 and 30, when the county had a combined 716 cases.
Tuesday’s numbers bumped the county’s seven-day average to 250 new cases a day. The previous seven-day average high, before this week, was 234 new cases a day, recorded in December 2020.
Tippecanoe County had a seven-day positivity rate of 18.9%, which was the county’s highest percentage of the pandemic, according to state records. (Statewide, the seven-day positivity rate was 20.5%, also a new high during the pandemic, according to the state.)
Tippecanoe County also reported three additional deaths, taking the total to 308 since the start of the pandemic.
The situation was still tight for hospitals in a nine-county region centered in Lafayette. The state report showed hospitals had one intensive care unit beds available out of 78. A day earlier, that had been zero ICU beds available, leaving hospitals maxed out .Of those 77 beds taken, 62.8% of them were for patients with COVID, according to the state report. (Similar statewide hospital figures showed 10.2% of ICU capacity available, with 37% of ICU capacity being used by patients with COVID.)
COVID RAPID TESTING RATIONED IN INDIANA
Given demand for rapid test kits that outstrips supply by nearly five times, the Indiana State Health Department on Tuesday changed the guidelines for those eligible to get one. In a move that was effective immediately, the state limited rapid tests at state and local health departments to those 18 and younger and to symptomatic people 50 and older.
"This change is necessary due to the national shortage of rapid antigen tests and is designed to help ensure that students can stay in school and that Hoosiers who are most likely to need a monoclonal antibody are identified within the prescribed window in which they can be administered,” according to a state release issued Tuesday morning.
According the state health department, Indiana typically goes through 50,000 rapid tests a week, but is guarantee to get 11,000 a week right now.
The release said PCR tests – “which are the gold standard,” the according to the state – will be offered at all testing sites. Results of those come back in 24 to 48 hours.
For testing and vaccination sites and hours, check ourshot.in.gov.
WEST LAFAYETTE FLOATS SEWER RATE INCREASE, AMERICAN RESCUE PLAN ACT MONEY TO COVER DEHART PROJECT
West Lafayette’s sewer rates would go up $8.13 a month – that’s 20% – between now and 2026, according a rate increase schedule given initial approval by the city council Tuesday night.
The city plans to use a combo of the rate increase, a chunk of West Lafayette’s money from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 and a 20-year bond to pay for separating stormwater and sanitary sewers in what’s called the Dehart Combined Sewer Overflow Project.
The project will include construction of a 15-by-15-foot sewer tunnel designed to collect and store 1.7 million gallons of stormwater during heavy rains to give the city’s wastewater treatment plant time to process sewage instead of having it overflow directly into the Wabash River.
David Henderson, West Lafayette’s utility director, said the Dehart Street sewer project was the latest in a series of project designed to prevent combined-sewer overflows and the second to last in a larger effort to meet a federal mandate to eliminate CSOs.
Tuesday morning, the city’s board of works signed off on a maximum price of $13.9 million on the project.
Tuesday evening, the city council agreed to use $7 million of the $11.4 million West Lafayette received in the 2021 American Rescue Plan package for the project that will be between Dehart Street and Happy Hollow Road. The council also started a process to issue bonds this spring, backed by the proposed rate increase.
Jim Treat, a financial adviser, laid out a proposed rate schedule that would increase bills for households using 5,000 gallons a month from $40.47 to $44.50 in 2022. That first-year, 10% increase would be followed by increases of 3% or 2% each year until that same 5,000-gallon bill would be $48.60.
Currently, rates for household customers include $6.13 per 1,000 gallons, plus $9.82 for a combined-sewer overflow surcharge.
The city council set at Feb. 7 public hearing on the proposed rate increase. The council also is scheduled to take a final vote on the plan that night.
SHOUT OUT TO HEALTH CARE WORKERS
As health care workers get slammed by the latest surge in the pandemic, the two cities reached out with some moral support Tuesday.
In West Lafayette, Mayor John Dennis declared it Health Care Worker Appreciation Day.
“We sometimes forget how much stress, just on any given day, health care professionals go through,” Dennis said. “The impact that can have on you and your family is, in some cases, just insurmountable. So, I think they really do need to get a community high five.”
Lafayette followed the same morning with this on social media:
SNOWY OWL SIGHTINGS SOUTH OF LAFAYETTE
Quite a few of you reached out in the past week to give a heads up that a snowy owl was hanging out in fields near County Road 100 East (the extension of South Ninth Street) and County Road 800 South, about four miles south of Lafayette. By the time I got out there, it was me dodging a handful of drivers with out-of-county plates checking their cellphones as they scouted, too. No luck for me. But I was loving checking the photos on everyone’s feeds. Here’s one from Lafayette photographer Dave Weigel …
Thanks, again, to today’s sponsor, the Long Center for the Performing Arts. For details about the theater’s new “100 Years of Film” series, complete with pre-show performances on the Long Center’s Mighty Wurlitzer pipe organ, click on a movie below.
Thanks for signing up and making the Based in Lafayette reporting project work. Not a subscriber, but thinking about it? The New Year is a good excuse to jump aboard. I’ll do my best to make it worthwhile.