Planned & Prepared | Johnson County continues to practice safety measures during COVID-19

The outside of the Johnson County Health Department, located at 460 N. Morton St.

As nearly 1,000 students returned to Franklin College's campus in August, Johnson County Health Department Director Betsy Swearingen said she expected to see a spike in COVID-19 numbers across the country.

But, she said, the county hasn't seen a substantial increase in COVID-19 cases that can be linked back to the college, and the county isn't taking any extra precautions.

“We anticipated a spike, but it would be nice to see a downturn,” she said.

According to the New York Times, Johnson County has an average of 44.6 new COVID cases daily.

As of Oct. 28 Johnson County had more than 1,000 positive COVID-19 cases in the last 30 days, 33 of those being from Franklin College, according to the Indiana State Department of Health and Franklin College’s dashboard.

With an increase in COVID-19 case numbers among athletes at Franklin College, students switched to virtual learning for a week in October, while continuing to enforce Fortify Franklin procedures. However, those numbers aren’t just affecting the students on campus.

Swearingen said the COVID cases from Franklin College are in the age range where most students are asymptomatic. Because of this, she said she expected to see the number of cases to increase when students returned to campus in the fall.

Franklin College recently decided all students are to participate in random surveillance testing.

Previously, the college was just testing athletes per NCAA protocol, which entails testing at least 25% of student-athletes that are practicing in a given week.

“That’s the burden of random testing,” Swearingen said. “Let’s be realistic, the more people you test, the more positives you’re going to find. We would never know unless we tested and so know we test and find more positives.”

While supporting the Fortify Franklin plan, JCHD is also helping with contact tracing and providing the college with guidance.

As far as precautions in Johnson County and the city of Franklin, Swearingen encourages everyone to wear a mask and social distance.

“Remain diligent ... Be conscious of who you’re around, and who they’ve been around. We’ll beat this, it’ll just take some time,” Swearingen said.

High traffic areas, including BoJak’s Bar & Grille and Benjamin’s Scoops & Treasures in Franklin, are of concern when limiting the spread of COVID-19.

BoJak’s, located on Jefferson Street, has enforced similar protocols when serving their customers.

Senior Micajah Rippy occasionally goes to BoJak's with friends on Thursday nights, and he said the experience is much different from before the pandemic.

According to Rippy's experience, before a customer can get into BoJak's, staff will take their temperature to ensure the customer is safe to enter and requires all customers to wear masks until they are seated at their table. They also enforcing social distancing, with tables spaced six feet apart.

“It’s weird whenever I do go to BoJak’s because I’m usually with friends and we try to stay around our own table to be safe,” Rippy said.

Another popular spot that Franklin College students frequent is Benjamin’s, located on the courthouse square in downtown Franklin.

Owner Kim Brosnan said that about 30% of their customers come from the college. But she doesn’t believe that the cases from campus will affect their business.

“We are doing a lot of extra cleaning after anyone touches anything,” Brosnan said. “We are treating everyone as if they have it, so we just clean a lot and do whatever we can to protect everyone else.”

Along with the extra cleaning, all workers are required to wear masks when working with food and drinks, all customers are required to wear masks while in store and the store is pre-packaging everything they can.

Sophomore Peighton Noel used to go to Benjamin’s about once a week before COVID hit, but since then, she’s only been back once.

“There are definitely necessities and essential things people should be going out for, but everyone should be smart,” Noel said. “Always wear your mask, wash your hands, keep hand sanitizer with you, and be respectful of the people around you.”

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