INDIANAPOLIS — While the story of COVID-19 in July across Indiana was a second surge of rising numbers, August was a picture of those numbers leveling off.
However, case counts and positivity leveled off at the highest points Indiana has seen yet and didn’t make any moves toward deflating back down. As the state enters September, there’s no clear trend emerging as to whether cases are likely to go up again, stay level or start decreasing.
State numbers rise, then hold
After seeing decreasing case counts across the state in June, that trend in Indiana changed in July as cases steadily rose throughout the month. Entering August, case increases had slowed a bit, just shy of 1,000.
During August, however, the state broke past that mark and even went a little higher and the state never showed any serious indications that COVID-19 was going to start retreating.
The state averaged 873 cases per day throughout August, more than 200 cases higher than the July monthly average of 663 cases per day.
In total, new cases rose 40.3%, a slightly slower pace than the July percent increase of 44%.
Testing was up, rising from just shy of 8,500 unique individuals tested per day in July to 10,110 per day in August. Even despite the rising in testing, however, the statewide positivity rate based on unique positives and unique tests also was higher for the month at 8.64%, up from 7.81% in July.
August was the first full month the state started reporting the total number of tests conducted and not just unique individuals tested, average 15,512 tests per day. The all-testing positivity rate was 5.63%.
And while the state death rate had been consistently improving since May, that improvement stalled in August. Average daily deaths increased just slightly to 10.35 deaths per day from 9.94 deaths per day in July.
The state also set new records in August, hitting all-time high marks for single-day cases at 1,239 on Aug. 7; unique Hoosiers tested at 13,981 on Aug. 18; and total tests at 20,232 on Aug. 21.
Statewide hospitalization numbers haven’t changed drastically, starting the month at 873 total patients hospitalized for COVID-19 on Aug. 1 and ending at 811. The state hit as high as 1,009 overall patients on Aug. 5 and never went lower than 842 patients on Aug. 18.
Local activity a mixed bag
Although Indiana as a whole was showing high numbers of new COVID-19 cases throughout August, that wasn’t always the case locally.
In the four-county area, new case growth was relatively slow, although it began picking up later in the month as new outbreaks started popping up.
On the month, Noble County had the largest increase in raw numbers, rising 180 cases from Aug. 1 to Aug. 31. But that represented an increase of just 28.8%, which was lower than the state rate for the same time period.
DeKalb County had the largest proportional increase, adding 129 new cases on the month, a 60.3% increase on its total, faster than the state pace.
Steuben County was up 84 cases, 43.1%, while LaGrange County had fairly little activity on the month, adding just 61 cases, only an 11.3% increase in cases.
The four-county area logged seven new deaths during August, with Noble and DeKalb counties each losing three residents and LaGrange County adding one death. Steuben County had no new deaths in August.
August brought some bad news of new outbreaks in local long-term care facilities as Sacred Heart Home in Avilla, once plagued by a serious outbreak earlier in the year, reported new cases in its assisted living section. In DeKalb County, The Laurels of DeKalb in Butler also reported an outbreak toward the end of the month with more than 20 people infected in that facility.
Local school districts also went through some bumps as classes went back into session, with districts reporting a few cases among staff and students, leading to quarantines.
The most notable such incident came last week when a DeKalb High School football player tested positive, leading to a quarantine of not only his entire team but also DeKalb’s prior-week opponent on the gridiron, causing Angola’s entire team to enter quarantine. Both teams missed their games Friday and will miss this week’s Friday night game, too.
No progress on reopening
With Indiana making little progress toward improvement on its COVID-19 numbers, Gov. Eric Holcomb chose to make no changes in the state’s reopening plan.
For the entire month of August, Indiana held in Stage 4.5 of its five-step reopening plan and a statewide mask mandate remained in effect the entire moth, both measures that will extend through late September.
Indiana had been on track in its Back on Track reopening plan throughout May and June, advancing steps on the schedule. But at the end of June as measures starting turning a bit, Holcomb slowed the reopening, creating Stage 4.5 as a half step between Stage 4 and a full reopening.
Stage 4.5 went into effect on July 4 and, as numbers increased throughout July, stayed there. At the end of July, with no improvement shown, Holcomb opted to extend Stage 4.5 through Aug. 27, effectively locking the state at the level for the entire month.
Also, taking effect July 27, Holcomb issues a statewide mask mandate, requiring Hoosiers to wear face covering in public indoor spaces as well as outdoor locations where social distancing isn’t possible.
The mask mandate has no enforcement mechanism, so people can’t be ticketed or criminally charged for failing to comply, and the move met resistance from skeptics early on.
The state didn’t have any measure of how many Hoosiers were wearing masks before and therefore has not quantification of whether the mask mandate has changed behaviors.
That being said, the increases seen throughout July essentially stopped after the mandate went into effect and positivity rates have improved marginally since then, though whether the mask mandate is to credit or not is unclear.
At the end of August, Holcomb again extended Stage 4.5 and the mask mandate for 30 days, so Hoosiers will hold in the same place for most of September until the governor makes his next call, likely on Sept. 23.