Weekly ratings Feb. 24

Almost all of Indiana now sits in the best two ratings for COVID-19 spread as cases and positivity have fallen across the state.

INDIANAPOLIS — It’s not the best ever, but it’s getting closer, as almost all of Indiana’s 92 counties are now sitting in the best two ratings for COVID-19 spread.

There were weeks in September 2020 that were a little better, but the vast majority of the state now is seeing either low or moderate spread of coronavirus, a sharp turnaround from a month-and-a-half ago when about 8-in-10 counties were rated as having very high spread of the virus.

This week, Indiana has 39 counties rated blue for low spread of COVID-19 and another 50 counties in the next-best yellow rating, representing moderate spread. Only three counties are orange for high spread, and none are in red for very high spread.

Two of the three orange counties left in the state this week are in northeast Indiana —Whitley and Huntington counties — although both are close to dropping to yellow with a little more improvement in their numbers. On Jan. 13, 79 of 92 counties were red, with the other 19 in orange, so the state has seen rapid improvement since.

Locally, it’s improvement across the board for the northeast Indiana area.

Whitley County remained within the “orange” threshold through the weekend, with 150 cases per 100,000 residents and a 7-day positivity rate of 10.24%. In order to drop into the yellow category, a county needs to be below 10% positivity and 100 cases per 100,000 residents. The county has seen a steady decline in cases, with about seven new cases per day for the past week.

However, after going a month with no new deaths, Whitley County had a new death reported on Feb. 20. Deaths remain most prevalent in the 80-and-up age group, with 55.6% of Whitley County’s victims being over 80 years old. An additional 27.8 percent are ages 70-79.

Steuben and DeKalb counties dropped back to yellow after both popped barely into orange a week ago. Noble County stayed yellow, and LaGrange County stayed blue, which means both counties are able to pull back on gathering-size restriction, since they’ve been at those levels for two consecutive weeks.

DeKalb County returned to yellow, as its case counts dropped back down after a one-week spike, although the county still remains close to the border between yellow and orange. Cases halved to 112 per 100,000 from 236 per 100,000 a week ago, but positivity was up slightly at 9.57% from 9.37%.

If positivity were to pop above 10% without cases dropping below 100 per 100,000, DeKalb County could return to orange, so the county needs to at least hold the line on positivity in order to stay yellow.

Steuben County returned to yellow, as its positivity rate dropped back down again after running higher a week ago. The county posted 7.63% positivity on the week, down from 11.79% a week ago. Case counts fell a little bit, too, to 112 cases per 100,000 residents, down from 132 per 100,000 a week ago.

DeKalb and Steuben counties remain in orange-level gathering-size restrictions, since they will need to stay yellow for two weeks before pulling back on limits. At orange level, gatherings are restricted to 50 people or up to 25% of a venue’s capacity with a health-department-approved safety plan.

Noble County saw a little improvement in both metrics to stay in yellow for the second week. Positivity was nearly unchanged at 5.67% from 5.73% a week ago, while case counts dropped to 117 per 100,000 from 131 last week.

Noble County is close to a blue rating but not quite there. In order to achieve it, cases will need to drop below 100 per 100,000 and positivity needs to fall under 5%. LaGrange County held at its best blue rating for a second straight week, as the county has seen little COVID-19 activity recently.

Cases were down a little to 30 per 100,000 from 50 last week, but positivity did tick up to 4.57% from 2.34% a week ago. If the county were to pop back above 5% positivity, it would return to yellow grade. Because both Noble and LaGrange counties held at their same color grades for a second week, gathering restrictions can ease starting this week.

Noble County can see its gathering restrictions ease to up to 100 people or up to 50% of a venue’s capacity with an approved safety plan. In LaGrange County, blue-level restrictions mean gathering sizes can go up to 250 people, but the health department can OK events at 100% capacity of a venue with a safety plan.

This week represents another improvement for Indiana as a whole, which went from 73 yellow and 11 blue counties last week to 50 yellow and 39 blue this week. The state has only three counties now in orange, down from eight last week.

The ratings are the best since late September, which were the best weeks Indiana had since introducing the color-coded metrics map on Sept. 2. The best week came on Sept. 23, when Indiana had 58 blue, 32 yellow and just two orange counties.

The southwestern quadrant of the state is almost all blue this week, while east Central Indiana and the four-county area’s western neighbors — Elkhart, Kosciusko, Fulton and Marshall counties — represent another block of blue in the north.

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