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Photos by Kim Nowatzke 

Georgeann and Brian Quealy are the owners of Integrative Flavors, 3501 W. Dunes Highway. Begun 82 years ago, the nationally certified, woman-owned business manufactures and distributes clean-label and traditional, savory flavor bases and food concentrates used in soups, main dishes, side dishes, salad dressings and other foundation foods.


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State of emergency, school closure extended

INDIANAPOLIS — With incidents of COVID-19 infections increasing in Indiana, Gov. Eric J. Holcomb on Thursday took additional actions intended to support Hoosiers during the COVID-19 outbreak by signing executive orders to extend the closure of schools, provide economic relief and protections for individuals and businesses, and expand unemployment insurance benefits for those impacted by job loss.

“Every day we learn more about how to tackle this monster,” Holcomb said. “We are being thoughtful about how to approach every action we are taking in this national public health emergency and putting Hoosiers’ health and safety first.”

On Thursday, the Indiana State Department of Health reported 17 new positive cases of COVID-19, bringing to 56 the number of Hoosiers diagnosed through ISDH, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and private laboratories. Two Hoosiers have died.

The new cases involve three residents of Howard, one of Lake, eight from Marion, one from Owen, two for St. Joseph, one for Tippecanoe and one for Wayne counties. No new cases were announced for La Porte County. The list of counties with cases is included in the ISDH COVID-19 dashboard at https://www.in.gov/coronavirus/, which will be updated daily at 10 a.m. Cases are listed by county of residence.

According to the governor’s office, daily COVID-19 testing capacity in Indiana has expanded with the addition of a new partnership between the Indiana State Department of Health and Eli Lilly and Company, and at least one other entity has initiated testing this week. In the past 24 hours, about 200 tests have been completed.

“As we increase the number of tests analyzed each day, no one should be caught off guard that the number of positive cases will increase,” said Dr. Kris Box, state health commissioner. “This will help us know where community spread is occurring in Indiana and help us mobilize resources in affected areas.”

Here is a summary of covered actions. The Executive Orders, which contain additional actions, will be found at this link: https://www. in.gov/gov/2384.htm

State of Emergency Extension

The Governor will extend the current state of emergency an additional 30 days when it expires on April 5.

K-12 schools

All K-12 public schools will remain closed until May 1. Non-public schools are also ordered closed. This date may be revised to extend through the end of the 2019-2020 school year if circumstances warrant.

All-state mandated assessments will be canceled for the current academic year. The governor has contacted U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to share the state’s plan and also has asked the Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Jennifer McCormick to pursue any federal waivers needed to cancel the requirements for accountability, chronic absenteeism and state-mandated assessments.

“From the beginning, we have said the time to act is now, and that action continues to be necessary as we navigate the fluid situation the COVID-19 pandemic has created,” McCormick said. “The most important charge of Indiana’s schools is to protect and keep students, staff, and families safe. The decisions made by our local administrators and educators are doing just that. However, there are educational implications, that if not addressed, will unnecessarily burden our schools. Therefore, the additional actions announced today will help lessen the impact and allow reprieve so our districts can continue focusing on serving Hoosier students and families.”

She also said the IDOE will pursue all available federal waivers to ensure zero interruption in school food service programs. To date, 94 percent of Indiana’s traditional public schools are providing or arranging meals.

Economy

The state of Indiana will align with the federal government to delay state income tax payments from April 15 to July 15. The U.S. Treasury extended the deadline to pay federal income tax by 90 days.

Penalties will be waived for 60 days for property tax paid after May 11. The state will work with counties that may experience cash flow stress because of the delay.

The state will not immediately move forward with using $300 million in reserves to pay for several capital projects approved in the just-concluded legislative session and instead maintain flexibility to utilize the funds as needed for relief efforts and to maintain current services. The state will consider using bonding authority to move forward with the just-approved capital projects.

Providers of essential utility services such as gas and electric, broadband, telecom, water and wastewater services are prohibited from discontinuing service to any customer during the public health emergency.

The state’s application to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) was approved on Wednesday. This program provides targeted, low-interest loans of up to $2 million to help small businesses and nonprofits overcome the temporary loss of revenue as a result of coronavirus. See more at SBA.gov/Disaster.

Unemployment Insurance Benefits

The state will interpret Indiana’s unemployment laws to the broadest extent possible to cover Hoosiers who are out of work because of COVID-19.

Benefits will be paid to individuals who file their initial unemployment claims late.

The Department of Workforce Development will allow individuals to continue to accrue unemployment eligibility if they take work leave because of COVID-19.

DWD will seek federal authorization to provide unemployment benefits for those who are not otherwise eligible for unemployment, such individuals who have recently started a job.

For employers, DWD will not assess certain experience rate penalties because of employees who receive unemployment benefits because of COVID-19.

Housing

No residential eviction proceedings or foreclosure actions may be initiated during the public health emergency. This does not relieve the individual of obligations to pay rent or mortgage payments.

All public housing authorities are requested to extend deadlines for housing assistance recipients and required documentation to show eligibility for housing programs.

The Indiana Department of Financial Institutions and Indiana Community Housing Development Authority are required to work with financial institutions to identify tools to help promote housing stability.

Social Services

Participants in the Healthy Indiana Plan (HIP) and the Children’s Health Insurance Program are not required to make premium payments.

Job search requirements are waived for those applying for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) benefits.

The Family and Social Services Administration will seek a federal waiver to extend renewals for existing Medicaid and HIP recipients.

Telehealth services for mental health, substance use disorder and prescribing for Medicaid covered services will be expanded.

Insurance

The commissioner of the state Department of Insurance will request that insurers institute a 60-day moratorium on policy cancellations for non-payment of premiums. This does not suspend a policyholder’s obligation to make payments.

The commissioner will ask health insurers to cover COVID-19 testing without requiring prior authorization.

The commissioner will request that health insurers not increase prices or coverage costs that involve medical care for COVID-19.

Bureau of Motor Vehicles

To limit the number of in-branch transactions, late fees will be waived for several driver’s licenses and identification card renewals, vehicle registrations, titles, and certain other transactions.

Other operational changes in branches are being instituted to provide for the safety of employees and customers in branches, such as spacing between terminals and limiting the number of customers in the lobby.

Veterans

Requirements have been relaxed for veterans to qualify for awards from the Military Family Relief Fund.

Awards in excess of $2,500 may be approved by the IDVA director during the public health emergency.

Health and Professional Licensing

Mental health professionals are permitted to practice via telemedicine.

Advance Practice Registered Nurses are allowed to provide services in multiple locations.

The state health commissioner may waive requirements of the nursing home certificate of need statute to respond to COVID-19 issues for long-term care facilities.

More information may be found at the ISDH website at in.gov/coronavirus/ and the CDC website at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html.


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COVID-19 bringing the best out of county first responders

La PORTE — Despite the unprecedented challenge the pandemic has presented, the ongoing COVID-19 crisis has brought the best out of La Porte County’s first responders, according to county leaders.

On Wednesday, several county department heads updated the La Porte County Board of Commissioners on how they and their teams have responded to the coronavirus outbreak, which has gripped the entire world over the past several months. The officials spoke during the commissioner’s regularly scheduled meeting this week, where the limited audience sat at least 6 feet away from one another to limit the possible spread of the virus.

Several county officials attended the gathering remotely via teleconferencing software. In addition to the usual live broadcast of the meeting through the Access La Porte County TV and website, the county also livestreamed the proceedings on Facebook, with as many as 50 people viewing from home.

Wednesday’s meeting was the first since the board of commissioners created a countywide task force to address the global COVID-19 crisis, which, as of Thursday, was confirmed to have been contracted by 56 Indiana residents, including a 55-year-old La Porte man.

Several county departments – including the sheriff’s department, emergency medical services, emergency management, E-911 and building maintenance – have worked together even before the taskforce’s March 12 formation to acquire equipment and develop new procedures in response to the pandemic.

EMS, in particular, has been a “step ahead” in dealing with the coronavirus threat, beginning work on protocols to address the issue around two months ago, said Assistant Administrator Eric Fenstermaker.

The ambulance service has worked with the EMA and maintenance department to get personal protective gear for its paramedics, technicians and other staff members. The EMS educator coordinator has instructed the crew on the proper protocols for using the equipment and how to protect themselves from contracting the virus, as well.

“If our guys get exposed, we’re in a lot of trouble,” he said. “We want to make sure we have the right stuff to keep them safe.”

The department currently has enough gear to last several months, though it is working with Emergency Management Director Larry Butcher to acquire more from the state, Fenstermaker said.

The department has offered some protective gear and instruction to local fire departments as well, Fenstermaker said.

Facilities Director Larry Levendowski has also supplied EMS with cleaning supplies for its crews to use to sanitize its ambulance fleet, to make sure that staff is not picking up anything from the vehicles and medical tools, the administrator said.

Finally, the service has worked with area hospitals to develop special procedures on how to transport suspected COVID-19 patients for treatment, Fenstermaker said.

La Porte County E-911 has also implemented new policies in response to the public health crisis, said Director Steve Alt.

Most notably, the emergency dispatchers have begun screening callers complaining of difficulty breathing, chest pain, headache or general sickness for COVID-19, asking them a series of questions developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Alt said. The information will give first responders warning about the caller’s condition, ensuring they come prepared with proper protective equipment if needed.

The director added that these questions would not delay dispatch of an ambulance, fire or other emergency personnel, he said.

The sheriff’s department, meanwhile, has modified its jail operations to prevent the spread of the virus through the county’s inmate population, said Sheriff John Boyd. In addition to working with the courts to limit the movement of prisoners in and out of the facility, the department has suspended its work release program until further notice, Boyd said.

With K-12 classes currently suspended in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, the department has also reassigned its school resource officers to other functions, the sheriff noted.

One challenge his staff are currently dealing with is a shortage of hand sanitizer, due to the massive demand of the product since the coronavirus’ spread across the U.S. Though the department’s jail and office staff can easily wash their hands frequently throughout the day, road deputies lack convenient access to a sink, Boyd said.

Unfortunately, the hand sanitizer shortage will not be solved overnight, as the maintenance department is currently on a one-month-long waiting list for new supplies, Levendowski said. The department still has enough cleaning supplies to last several months, however, the facilities director said. Crews are routinely cleaning and disinfecting each of the county’s facilities and courthouses to prevent transmission within the buildings, he added.

“Throughout the day, we’re hitting every doorknob, every door, throughout every building – every place where someone would actually put a hand,” Levendowski said.

EMA Director Butcher said that additional protective gear and supplies from the Strategic National Stockpile would also be on its way to the county soon, with federal officials releasing the materials for distribution in the coming days.

In addition to supplying masks and other equipment to county first responders, the official is hoping to give some gear to local homeless shelters to prevent the spread of the virus there, he said.

One thing all the officials touched on was the strong collaboration between their offices, as well as the county health department and other agencies, in response to the ongoing crisis, they said.

“It’s a great team,” Boyd said. “In times like this, we come together. It really helps us when we work as a team.”

La Porte County Commission President Sheila Matias also praised their efforts and encouraged the community at large to show a similar solidary in response to the challenge that lies ahead.

“This is a time when we need each other the most,” she said. “When times are tough, we as Americans, and certainly we as Hoosiers and residents of La Porte County, know it’s sometimes the little things that count the most. We need to tap into that community spirit. Together, we can do this.”


News
Area banks announce lobby closures during outbreak

MICHIGAN CITY — In an effort to protect employees and customers from risk of COVID-19 infection, Horizon and Centier banks have announced the closure of all their branch lobbies to walk-in traffic, although drive-thru, phone and online options will remain available, while PNC Bank has announced other changes to its operations.

On Thursday, Horizon Bank said the lobbies of all Horizon Bank locations throughout Indiana and Michigan will be open by appointment only. The bank’s drive up, ATM, and Live Video Banking facilities will remain open and hours of operation will remain unchanged at this time. In addition, all offices and departments will be staffed and available to assist customers by telephone.

“At Horizon, there is nothing more important to us than the safety and well-being of our customers, employees and communities we serve,” said Horizon CEO Craig Dwight. “We have announced the temporary measure of having our lobbies open by appointment only to do all that we can to ensure a safe environment while serving the financial needs of our customers and community. As we face the unknown impact of the COVID-19 virus, we continue to monitor the situation from credible sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the state and local public health authorities.”

Horizon is encouraging customers to call their local branch to schedule an appointment during normal business hours. In addition, Horizon is encouraging customers to bank from home using many alternative banking options available such as: online and mobile banking, Bank by Telephone, Call Center (888) 873-2640, ATM’s, Live Video Banking or by calling the offices direct.

Horizon said it will continue to update customers and communities as this situation changes and have created a dedicated webpage on www.horizonbank.com where you will find updates, ways to bank remotely, helpful resources and any changes to branch hours or services at: www.horizonbank.com/covid-19-resources/.

Michael E. Schrage, CEO and Chairman of Centier Bank, also announced Wednesday that his bank has temporarily closed all branch lobbies and in-store branches, limiting service to drive-up banking, in an effort to minimize social exposure during the global coronavirus threat.

The decision was made following guidance and information from the Centers for Disease Control, as well as local health and government officials. The temporary closure will last until further notice.

“On behalf of everyone at Centier Bank, our hearts go out to those who have been affected by coronavirus - not only those who have contracted the virus - but their caretakers, as well as those in the workforce who have been impacted by closures,” Schrage said in a statement Tuesday. “Our top priority at Centier Bank is always, and remains to be, the health and safety of our clients, associates, and our communities.”

Additionally, Centier Bank is posting business updates and directing clients to utilize digital banking resources, as well as other pertinent information on a page within its website: https://Centier.com/Coronavirus.

“At this time, we are encouraging our clients to enroll in digital banking, as well as update their email address by logging into their accounts, so they can receive our updates and communication,” Schrage explained. “The coronavirus page on our website provides instructions to walk clients through the steps. Our universal bankers are also available during business hours at the branches and can be reached by phone to make an appointment for services that require inside access.”

For a directory of Centier Bank branch locations and phone numbers, go to https://centier.com/ locations. For more information about Centier Bank, go to centier.com.

The changes, which will go into effect Friday, March 20, will allow

PNC Bank said the following changes will take effect Friday, March 20:

Temporarily adjusting retail branch access, operating primarily in a drive-up only mode, augmented with select branches that do not provide drive-up capability, to ensure branch access across PNC communities. Together, about three quarters of PNC’s current branch locations will remain open to service customers. The remainder of PNC branches will be closed until further notice. To locate a PNC branch, customers may visit the PNC branch locator.

Consistent Branch Hours, for all open locations will be 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, closed on Sunday.

Offering Essential Appointments, for customers requiring safe deposit box access, loan closings or other banking services that cannot be delivered through the drive-up, by telephone, through the ATM network or via mobile or online banking. To make appointments, customers are encouraged to check the PNC branch locator to find the most convenient open branch.

“The safety and well-being of our customers, employees and the communities we serve remains our top priority, and our thoughts are with those who are being impacted by this global pandemic,” said Bill Demchak, PNC chairman, president and CEO. “The challenges all of us face at this time are unprecedented, and PNC is making these adjustments to help keep our customers and employees safe. Great consideration went into these decisions and we are confident in our ability to seamlessly deliver through these changes with minimal disruption at the level of service our customers expect and deserve. We also have the capital and liquidity to continue to meet the needs of our entire customer base.”


News
Help offered to state businesses during outbreak

INDIANAPOLIS — The Small Business Administration and Indiana Chamber of Commerce are offering support and resources to businesses and organizations affected by the coronavirus outbreak.

On Wednesday night, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) issued a disaster declaration for the state of Indiana, offering financial assistance for Hoosier small businesses impacted by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in the state.

According to the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, the declaration is in response to a formal request Governor Eric J. Holcomb submitted with the SBA on March 17, seeking assistance through the organization’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan program.

“Small businesses play a critical role in driving Indiana’s economy forward, with more than 512,000 employing 1.2 million Hoosiers across the state,” Holcomb said. “These disaster loans will provide much needed financial support to small business owners who are weathering the impact of the coronavirus outbreak.”

Under the program, small businesses, small agricultural cooperatives and nonprofits across the state are eligible to apply for low-interest loans up to $2 million to help overcome the temporary loss of revenue due to the COVID-19 outbreak. These loans may be used to pay fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable and other bills incurred during this public health emergency. The loan interest rates for small businesses and nonprofits are 3.75 percent and 2.75 percent, respectively, with terms up to 30 years.

To qualify for disaster loans, the IEDC said applicants must demonstrate credit history, the ability to repay the loan, and proof of physical presence in Indiana and working capital losses. Additionally, the Indiana Small Business Development Center, which has 10 regional offices throughout the state, will provide free business advising and application assistance for small businesses impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak.

To apply for loans or receive more information about the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, visit SBA.gov/Disaster. Contact 1-800-659-2955 or disastercustomerservice@sba.gov with additional questions.

The deadline to apply is Dec. 18.

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce is also trying to provide COVID 19 resources to state business by creating a statewide employer resource page providing information under three umbrellas: Health, Tools You Can Use and Government and Community Assistance.

The group is also taking specific business questions that will be answered by staff and private sector professionals.

“The Indiana Chamber has been around for nearly 100 years and we’re not going anywhere,” said Indiana Chamber President and CEO Kevin Brinegar. “We are here for employers, local chambers and business groups in every county in the state.”

The site – www. indianachamber.com/ coronavirus – features guidance on key workplace and legal topics, a coronavirus toolkit and information on unemployment insurance from the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, in addition to providing health and other government resources.

All information on the site, Brinegar stresses, “is for any Indiana business or organization to use – no Indiana Chamber membership is required.

“We will have additional free information opportunities for member companies. An upcoming one includes a free legal webinar on Monday.”