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Hendricks County marks COVID-19 anniversary with candlelight vigil


Brighter Together Virtual Candlelight Vigil on March 13 honoring Hendricks County residents who died from COVID-19. Pictures, FF Kindred, Brownsburg Fire Territory. (Cover Photo by Gus Pearcy)

In memory of…

By Gus Pearcy

Luminaries filled the sidewalk and trail alongside the lake at Avon Town Hall Park to mark the anniversary of the day former President Donald Trump declared the coronavirus pandemic a national emergency. The Hendricks County Community Foundation and the towns of Avon, Brownsburg, Danville and Plainfield sponsored a candlelight vigil to remember the county’s more than 300 lives lost to COVID-19.

The virtual ceremony, broadcast on YouTube, included the Washington Township Fire Department color guard as well as short memorials from HCCF President and CEO Wiliam Rhodehamel and Plainfield Police Chief Jared McKee. The community was urged to light a candle or luminary from home and participate via the broadcast.

Rhodehamel said the tribute was altogether fitting to remember the lives lost as well as others who have had their lives upended.

“We have lost too many of our family members, our friends and our neighbors to this virus,” he said. “None of us has been spared the pain, the fear or the anxiety.”

A year ago the coronavirus was spreading quickly through the country. Indiana recorded its first case of COVID-19 March 6. Kevin Speer, Hendricks Regional Health president and CEO, said the health system went into high alert with the host of issues surrounding the crisis. In the Hendricks County Conversations with Rick Myers and Gus Pearcy, Speer said several issues emerged.

“There’s not a playbook for a pandemic, at least that I have found,” Speer said. “A big snow, cold weather, a pipe breaks, these were crises until about a year ago.”

Within the last four months, the Hendricks Regional Health hospital in Danville went on diversion for 24 hours, which meant they couldn’t accept emergency patients, Speer said. It was the first time in the hospital’s 58-year history. 

“We were asking emergency personnel to not bring patients to us,” Speer said.

By March 16 the Indiana State Department of Health announced the first Hoosier death related to COVID-19.

Likely the first in the nation, Avon Community School Corporation closed all buildings March 9 after the first cases were reported there. A year later, Avon teachers were the first educators in Indiana to get vaccinated.

By March 25, 2020, Gov. Eric Holcomb issued a statewide stay-at-home order.

Since those early days of the pandemic, Hendricks County recorded more than 16,000 cases of COVID-19. Today more than 41,495 county residents have had the first dose of the vaccination, and 23,205 two doses, according to the Indiana State Department of Health website. The positivity rate calculated by the ISDH was less than 5 percent for the first two weeks of this March 2021, and as of March 15, more than 837,000 Hoosiers have been fully vaccinated.

Plainfield Police Chief McKee told the vigil audience that slowing down during the shutdown was a blessing and noted how many communities came together.

“As a law enforcement officer, I never saw it coming,” McKee said about the pandemic’s start last year. “We had to really look at things through a different lens.

“It really got us to stretch in the way we reacted and engaged with the community,” McKee added after the broadcast. “Like I said in my speech, it gave us a chance to reflect on what’s important.”

Several Plainfield officers contracted the disease, McKee said, noting staffing got thin at times.

“The Town of Plainfield did a great job in letting us work remotely in those areas where we could,” said McKee, who has not contracted the virus.

Leaders from each community participated in the moment of silence during the broadcast.

The 30-minute memorial is on YouTube.com on the Hendricks County Community Foundation’s channel. 

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