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. 

Captured via Facebook Live

It will be months before the general public has access to the COVID-19 vaccine, but some people are already wondering what the shots may cost.

Berrien County Health Officer Nicki Britten said nobody is allowed to be charged or billed for the vaccine itself.

 

“Cost will not be a barrier for anybody," she said. "That is something that is being provided to the American public.”

 

Captured via Facebook Live

Elkhart Mayor Rod Roberson offered highlights from his first year in office, as well as a look into 2021, when he delivered his first State of the City address before the Elkhart Common Council on Monday, Dec. 21.

Roberson touched on several accomplishments from his first term, including pay raises for city employees, the redevelopment of the Tolson Center, and redesigning Benham Avenue to make it safer. 

 

But, he said any accomplishment of his “pales in comparison” to the year healthcare workers have experienced.

 

Photo provided courtesy of Goshen Health

Goshen Health officials provided an update on the COVID-19 vaccination campaign begun on Dec. 18. 

(You can read the latest release below.)

GOSHEN, Ind., December 21, 2020 – In the first two days, Goshen Health administered the COVID-19 vaccination to 561 people, with another 222 scheduled to be completed today. Plus, the organization has already received its second shipment of the vaccine.

(Provided by IU Health)

There’s been a lot of vaccine news lately, with the first doses of the Pfizer vaccine being administered last week, and the first shipments of the Moderna vaccine expected to go out this week. However, yet another vaccine is in the works in our area.

Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine is in the final phase of clinical trials at 100 sites around the world – including at the South Bend Clinic.

 

Facebook Live

Deputy Health Officer Mark Fox was able to note some positive trends at the St. Joseph County biweekly COVID-19 update on Friday, Dec. 18.

 

The county's new daily case count has decreased over the last 10 days, which Fox called "some of the best news we've had in a while." The "second-best news," he said, is that the county's 7-day rolling average of new cases is below 200 for the first time since early November.

 

Saint Joseph Health System

Friday, Dec. 18, was the first day of COVID-19 vaccination for some healthcare workers in Elkhart and St. Joseph Counties. 

 

Emergency physician and hospitalist Mark Walsh received St. Joseph Health System's first vaccine Friday morning. 

 

"It's the single most important tool that we have to protect me and to protect the entire nation," Walsh said.

 

Goshen Health also administered its first vaccines on Friday to doctors, nurses and therapists.

Captured via Facebook Live

During the weekly Berrien County COVID-19 update on Dec. 17, Spectrum Health Lakeland President Dr. Loren Hamel said the county received just under 1,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine. The first of those doses, he said, were administered Wednesday night.

"I was there with a line down the hall waiting to get vaccinated, folks with excitement and a few tears," Hamel said.

Hamel said the vaccine's arrival felt like a turning point, where healthcare workers can move from a "defensive" COVID strategy to an "offensive" one that's focused on prevention.

Justin Hicks/IPB News

Two local organizations recently received sizable donations from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, the former wife of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. The donations are part of Scott's goal to provide "immediate support" to those suffering the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to a Medium post Scott wrote, she asked a team of advisors to evaluate organizations based on their leadership teams, community impact and ability to utilize funding.

Elkhart County Health Department

According to new information from the Elkhart County Health Department, the county has seen more deaths in 2020 than in any of the previous five years.

 

As of Dec. 14, 1,992 people had died in Elkhart County, a 9 percent increase when compared to 2019. Fourteen percent of those deaths were related to COVID-19.

 

From 2015 to 2019, about 1,830 people died each year in Elkhart County, on average. Adding in 2020's deaths bumps that average up to about 1,857 - a 1.5 percent increase.

 

Peter Ringenberg

On Dec. 16, President-elect Joe Biden chose former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg to lead the federal Department of Transportation.

The transportation department manages the nation's roadways, railways, shipping and airlines. It's not the first federal department most citizens think of, but current South Bend Mayor James Mueller said it's the one with the most direct impact on people's daily lives.

From that perspective, he said it makes sense to appoint a local official to head the department.

ISDH

The latest update to the Indiana State Department of Health's COVID-19 tracking map shows 26 counties in the red, 10 fewer than last week. However, that still puts over a quarter of all Hoosier counties in the most serious designation. 

In the WVPE listening area, Elkhart and LaGrange Counties remain in the red, while Starke County is newly red this week. 

Captured via WebX

St. Joseph Health System is one of 50 sites in the state of Indiana that will receive a shipment of COVID-19 vaccine later this week. 

Chief Clinical Officer Gen Lankowicz said the health system is set to receive 975 doses of the Pfizer vaccine Thursday, Dec. 17, which staff will begin administering on Friday.

Gemma DiCarlo / WVPE Public Radio

At its year-end meeting on Dec. 15, the South Bend Housing Authority Board of Commissioners approved several measures to relocate residents of the Rabbi Shulman apartment building near downtown South Bend.

Housing Authority Interim Executive Director Tia Cauley said that issues with the gas lines have made the Rabbi Shulman Apartments unsafe for tenants. While she said the building is “not about to blow up,” she does want residents relocated as quickly as possible.

Captured via WebX

At a special meeting last night, the Elkhart Common Council passed an enforcement measure that supports the county’s COVID-19 ordinance, including fines for businesses that don’t comply with safety protocols.

Elkhart Mayor Rod Roberson stressed that the city ordinance is meant to support local healthcare systems by making sure the county’s safety protocols are consistently enforced.

Kim Henke, who trains ICU nurses at Elkhart General Hospital, urged council members to pass the ordinance for that reason.

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.

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