Gemma DiCarlo

Reporter

Gemma DiCarlo comes to Indiana by way of Athens, Georgia. She graduated from the University of Georgia in 2020 with a degree in Journalism and certificates in New Media and Sustainability. She has radio experience from her time as associate producer of Athens News Matters, the flagship public affairs program at WUGA-FM. 

Gemma is originally from Harrisburg, Oregon, and is looking forward to covering all things Michiana. 

South Bend Community School Corporation

Darden Elementary School will return to full virtual instruction until winter break. 

(You can read the full letter from Principal Patty Karban to Darden parents below.)

Dear Darden Families,

After consulting with Dr. Cummings, we have made the necessary decision to move Darden Elementary to all virtual learning, starting tomorrow, December 15, through Winter Break.

captured via https://www.facebook.com/SBCivic/photos/a.10150283769775273/10159852985285273/

On Dec. 14 – the eighth anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting – local actors and activists will tackle the issue of gun violence through seven plays streamed by the South Bend Civic Theater. 

The plays are the winners of #ENOUGH: Plays to End Gun Violence, a national short play contest for middle and high school students. Nearly 50 communities across the U.S. and around the world are producing staged readings of the winning plays.

Captured via YouTube

With the FDA poised to approve Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine soon, local hospital officials are offering an update on what the early stages of vaccination will look like in Michiana.

Dr. Dale Patterson, vice president of medical affairs at Memorial Hospital in South Bend, said the first set of doses will be administered to healthcare workers at the highest risk of contracting the virus.

Captured via Facebook Live

Berrien County health officials offered their weekly update on the COVID-19 pandemic on Dec. 11.

County Health Officer Nicki Britten says the county is seeing an average of 120 new cases per day, or 10 times more daily cases than at the end of September. But, she said new cases and hospitalizations are beginning to slow, a trend she called “encouraging.”

Screenshot captured via YouTube

Last month, the election for one Berrien County Commission seat ended in a dead tie, and after the County Board of Canvassers failed to find any errors, the winner was decided by a tiebreaker. However, a new winner has been declared after a recount on Dec. 8.

Barbara Anguiano / WVPE

After the Elkhart City Council voted to close the Tolson Community Center two years ago, a public-private partnership formed to renovate and redesign the building. On Monday, the Community Foundation of Elkhart County received $2 million to do just that.

Currently, the Tolson Center isn’t much more than a gymnasium and a park. But, City of Elkhart spokesperson Corinne Straight-Reed said the “grand vision” is to turn it into a “one-stop shop” for community involvement.

Captured via WebX

The Elkhart Common Council voted Monday night on a city ordinance to support Elkhart County’s COVID-19 safety measures.

The ordinance, which passed to a second reading, would allow Mayor Rod Roberson to enforce the county’s fine structure for Elkhart businesses that violate COVID-19 safety protocols.

Roberson originally asked the council to fast-track the city ordinance so it could immediately support the county ordinance, which goes into effect on Dec. 17.

“We cannot wait any longer to assist and support our healthcare system. People are dying,” he said.

Three Elkhart County cities have committed to enforcing the county’s COVID-19 protocols. The mayors of Elkhart, Goshen and Nappanee will each bring an ordinance to their city councils next week.

The ordinances will recognize and support the county health department’s COVID-19 orders, which limit gathering sizes and mandate face masks, among other things. They will also support the County Commissioners’ ordinance that establishes fines for violating those health orders.

City of South Bend

On Thursday, the City of South Bend released a second draft of its Use of Force Policy that incorporates feedback from community members and other stakeholders.

Mayor James Mueller said the new draft mostly adds clarification to the first draft, which was released in August.

“There were suggested changes on all sides, and sometimes they were at odds with each other," Mueller said. "This draft is trying to find the balance of what’s right for our community.”

ISDH

8,527 cases and 60 deaths from COVID-19 were reported Wednesday, Dec. 2 by the Indiana State Dept. of Health. The single day number of cases is the most yet since the pandemic started.

A stunning 859 of those new cases reported yesterday were in St. Joseph County alone, doubling the county's previous one-day high of 445 on Nov. 13. Deputy County Health Officer Dr. Mark Fox said the dramatic increase is likely the result of a data glitch. 

Jennifer Weingart / WVPE

The St. Joseph County Public Library recently received an $11,000 grant to digitize a collection of photo negatives donated by the South Bend Tribune. 

Local and family history librarian Ellen Anderson says the library will only digitize 2-3 percent of the collection. But that still comes out to 9,000 images, documenting St. Joe County from the 1950s to the 1990s.

The collection is enormous, disorganized and starting to deteriorate in places. Anderson said digitizing it will solve those problems.

Captured via Webex

Elkhart County emergency room doctors described the emotional toll of the pandemic at the third Candid COVID Conversation Wednesday night.

Dr. Michelle Bache, vice president of medical affairs at Elkhart General Hospital, said it’s been two months since her hospital has operated at anything less than 100 percent capacity.

That case load led to a record number of COVID-19 deaths last month.

(Lauren Chapman/IPB News)

In the wake of rising COVID-19 cases, many Michiana schools have returned to full-time virtual learning. That’s not the case with one school district in Berrien County that’s bucking the trend.

With the exception of Bridgman High School, which moved to virtual learning on Nov. 18 per Michigan’s most recent Epidemic Order, Bridgman Public Schools have been holding in-person classes for the entire fall semester.

St. Joseph County logo

At its regular meeting on Dec. 1, the St. Joseph County Council approved just over $59,000 in hazard pay for some county employees who faced exposure to the coronavirus. 

In the spring, the County Council moved $850,000 originally intended for the leaf pickup program to hazard pay for county employees.

The Sheriff’s Department was awarded about half of that in July, and 13 departments made requests for the remaining $434,000.

Annacaroline Caruso / WVPE Public Radio

The Elkhart County Board of Commissioners has passed an ordinance that allows fines for entities that repeatedly violate the health department’s COVID-19 order.

The fines will be the second step in the enforcement procedure laid out in the ordinance. The first step is a warning, followed by an education effort.

Then, fines can be issued per violation – not posting signs that announce a face-covering requirement, for example, means a $50 fine, while failing to maintain social distancing will cost $250.

(Courtesy of Johnson & Johnson)

In the wake of promising vaccine trials and still-surging COVID-19 cases, the phrase “herd immunity” has entered the popular vocabulary. 

It refers to the idea that if enough people in a community are exposed to a virus, it will eventually die out. It’s a real phenomenon, but it’s not possible without some sort of intervention.

Elkhart County Health Officer Lydia Mertz said it would take over five years to achieve herd immunity in Elkhart County without a vaccine – and that’s with every resource in every hospital dedicated to caring for coronavirus patients.

(Lauren Chapman/IPB News)

While Black Friday typically gets most of the post-Thanksgiving retail hype, the following Saturday has traditionally been dedicated to supporting small businesses.

Kylie Carter, director of marketing and events for Downtown South Bend, said the strain the pandemic has put on local businesses has made Small Business Saturday especially important this year.

“To use the trite [phrase], ‘Now more than ever,’
 she said. "I mean, the holiday shopping season could make or break many of our small businesses this year.”

Captured via WebX

Elkhart County Commissioner Suzie Weirick hosted a second “candid COVID conversation” on Wednesday, Nov. 25, with representatives from Goshen Hospital. 

You can watch the full conversation here.

When asked when he expected Elkhart County to move from the state’s red designation back to orange, Dr. Dan Nafziger, Chief Medical Officer at Goshen Hospital, said April.

ISDH

Today, the Indiana State Department of Health updated the color coding on its map tracking COVID-19 cases in all 92 Hoosier counties. Based on information released at noon, 17 counties are now in the most serious "red" designation, which is four fewer than last week.

In the WVPE listening area, both Elkhart and LaGrange counties remain in the red. Elkhart County moved to the red designation on Nov. 18, and LaGrange County entered the red on Nov. 11.

Zach Herndon/WTIU News

Over the last month, half a dozen school districts in the WVPE listening area have returned – or plan to return – to full-time virtual learning for some students. Some of those districts are now working to mitigate any learning gaps that may emerge from students not being in the classroom.

Jerry Thacker, Superintendent of the Penn-Harris-Madison School Corporation, said research indicates students in virtual programs are more likely to become disconnected than their peers in in-person classes.

CDC

Elkhart County Health Officer Dr. Lydia Mertz gave a COVID-19 update at the Elkhart Kiwanis Club’s regular meeting held virtually Tuesday afternoon. She re-emphasized the dire situation at local hospitals.

“People who think there’s going to be car accidents and they can go to the emergency room and be taken care of – that’s not true," Mertz said. "That’s the seriousness of what we’re seeing now.”

Goshen students grades 7-12 were supposed to have the option to return to in-person learning Monday, Nov. 30, but according to Superintendent Steven Hope, worsening pandemic metrics in Elkhart County will keep students out of the classroom until at least Dec. 11.

Upper-level students originally moved to all-virtual learning on Nov. 16 “due to student and teacher absences.”

K-6 students will continue to attend in-person classes four days a week, with a virtual learning day on Wednesdays.

WVPE News Stock Photos

Middle and high school students in the South Bend Community School Corporation will return to full-time eLearning on Monday, Nov. 30, but they will still have access to free meals and WiFi.

Meal kits with five breakfasts and lunches will be available for curbside pickup beginning the week of Nov. 30. Pickup will be from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. on Tuesdays at the following locations: 

JENNIFER TOBEY / ELKHART COUNTY EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT

As temperatures drop and COVID-19 continues to surge, some local homeless service providers are preparing for an influx of residents. 

Hope Ministries in South Bend began accepting weather amnesty residents earlier this month. Director of Operations John Brown said that, currently, no one with a fever is allowed into the building.

But, as the weather gets worse, he said his facility will set up a temporary isolation space and network with other service providers to care for potentially infected residents.

Screenshot captured via YouTube

Elkhart County Commissioner Suzie Weirick hosted a “Candid COVID Conversation” with local leaders on Wednesday to illustrate the situation inside area hospitals.

Jennifer Swain, an ICU nurse at Elkhart General, said the number of nurses in the ICU is double what it was at this time last year – and it’s still not enough. She had six patients die on her last shift alone.

“I can handle the stress of sick patients, but it’s not having what you need," Swain said. "So like, when you need that next ventilator and it’s not there and you say, ‘Sorry, I don’t know what to do.’”

Photo provided courtesy of Goshen Health

Speaking at the state COVID-19 briefing on Wednesday, Sarah Paturalski, Vice President of Nursing and Clinical Services at Beacon Health System, said that Beacon is 10 ICU beds over capacity, meaning staff has had to ration healthcare.

“People who need a screening colonoscopy or an outpatient elective procedure, we’re not able to do that right now," Paturalski said. "We need to deploy that staff to help us with the high-acuity cases we have on the inpatient side of the hospital.”

(Justin Hicks/IPB News)

On Wednesday, Nov. 18, Michigan began a three-week “pause” on several fronts in order to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the state. 

Under the new restrictions from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, indoor dining facilities, movie theaters and ice skating rinks are all closed. Those are just a few of the new restrictions.

St. Joseph County businesses can now be fined up to $250 for failing to enforce mask-wearing among employees. The County Board of Commissioners voted 2-1 to pass the enforcement order Tuesday morning. 

District 3 Commissioner Deb Fleming voted against the ordinance, citing her concern about what she says is a lack of scientific evidence that face masks effectively slow the spread of COVID-19. Many scientists and doctors claim otherwise.

Photo provided courtesy of Goshen Health

As COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to rise, many area hospitals have had to delay or cancel elective procedures, which could have a negative long-term impact on community health.

Goshen Hospital Chief Medical Officer Dr. Dan Nafziger said the term “elective” is misleading. Anything from cancer screenings to cardiac surgeries can fall into that category.

“When people say elective, what they’re really saying is urgent and important procedures,” he said. "So it's kind of unfortunate that that's the language that people have been using."

WVPE News

Just over a week after Election Day, St. Joseph County’s offices are seeing a small spike in COVID-19 cases among some employees.

County Health Officer Bob Einterz couldn’t say how many employees were infected or affected by the virus. But in a workplace as large as the County-City Building, he said there’s bound to be some cases. 

“It’s inevitable that employers of this size will be seeing cases of COVID," Einterz said. "With the surge happening within our county, it’s simply inevitable.”

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