INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana’s COVID-19 spread remains overall high, but the state and local area made minor improvements compared to a week ago.
It’s not much, but we’ll take it, as it stops a skid of eight consecutive weeks of worsening metrics.
But don’t be fooled, Indiana is still far, far from where it wants to be.
The Indiana State Department of Health’s weekly county COVID-19 spread ratings showed only minor changes from the week before, but those small changes were at least in the right direction toward improvement.
Locally, DeKalb County dropped from a red rating back to orange after showing enough improvement in its positivity rate to just slip to the lower level.
The rest of the region remains the same as last week — Whitley, Allen, Elkhart, LaGrange and Steuben counties are still rated the worst at red. Noble County also remained in orange after being the only area county to not hit red last week.
Overall, Indiana saw modest improvement, seeing the number of counties in red decline from 21 to 17 last week, which caused the number of counties in orange to increase by the same margin from 70 to 74.
For the second week, only one county received a yellow rating for moderate spread and zero counties were scored blue for low spread of the virus.
DeKalb County dropped from red to orange after showing modest improvements in both its per-capita case rate and positivity rates from a week ago.
The county dropped from 731 cases per 100,000 to 639 per 100,000, while positivity dropped from 16.3% to 14.77%, barely under the 15% threshold that would have kept DeKalb in red for a second week.
Despite dropping to a lower color grade, DeKalb County will still remain in red-level restrictions on gatherings as the state requires a county to sit at a lower grade for at least two consecutive weeks before easing off COVID-19 restrictions.
As of Sunday, Whitley County posted a per-capita rate of 777 per 100,000 residents compared to 759 per 100,000 the week prior.
The positivity rate sits at 15.72%. Friday and Saturday brought the state’s lowest number of new cases since Nov. 2, with 16 and 17 new cases in Whitley County, respectively. However, one cannot assume that numbers have significantly dropped, as the holiday weekend may have delayed results.
Whitley County also tallied several more deaths this month — a total of nine in November. While early numbers showed more balanced death statistics among the age categories, Whitley County’s numbers are starting to trend with the rest of the state and nation, with more deaths coming in the older age groups.
Of the 15 total deaths, 40% are individuals age 80 and older; 20% age 70-79, 20% age 60-69, 13.3% age 50-59, and 6.7% age 30-39.
Northeast Indiana hospitalizations reached a new all-time high at 401 total patients over the weekend. Several hospitalizations include Whitley County residents, as the county has had at lease one hospitalization a day since Nov. 16, as of press time.
As for the other area counties in the red, LaGrange County remains firmly in the red while Steuben was close to slipping back into orange, although both showed modest improvements from a week ago.
LaGrange County posted a per-capita case rate of 348 per 100,000 and has positivity of 25.79%, a rate that remains one of the highest in the state but was at least a little better compared to a week ago. Last week, LaGrange County had rates of 464 cases per 100,000 and 29.97% positivity.
Steuben County was close to getting back in the orange but didn’t quite make it as positivity remains a little too high.
The per-capita case rate went up a bit to 737 cases per 100,000 from 708 per 100,000 last week, but positivity was down to 15.11% from 16.63% last week. If Steuben had dropped under 15% it would have fallen into orange despite case numbers remaining very high.
Noble County held in the orange and did so while seeing some improvement in both metrics this week. Per-capita cases declined a bit to 779 per 100,000 from 869 per 100,000 last week, while positivity was also down a bit from 12.96% to 12.31%.
Noble County Health Officer Dr. Terry Gaff advised residents not to ease up despite the county doing a little better than its neighbors as spread still remains very high.
“We must not ease our efforts to slow the spread of this pandemic virus,” Gaff said. “Masks, distancing and hand hygiene remain our best individual defense for each of us. Cooperation with isolation, quarantine, contact tracing and testing of close contacts continue to be imperative in our struggle.”
The weekly color ratings trigger additional restrictions with the state for counties in orange and red rating.
Counties in orange for high spread should have local leaders convene to discuss actions that could be implemented to reduce spread and school officials should review plans for extra-curricular activities and other events to ensure compliance with gathering restrictions and other mitigation.
Orange counties have gatherings limited to 50 people; businesses should reduce the number of people congregating in common areas like break rooms; attendance at K-12 activities including sports are limited to 25% capacity; and community sports leagues and tournaments can continue, although attendance should be reduced.
Red counties have similar measures to orange counties, with additional guidance for local officials to consider limiting operational hours for bars, taverns, nightclubs and restaurants.
Gatherings are limited to 25 people but are being encouraged to postpone or cancel; businesses should reduce gatherings in common areas; restaurants are strongly encouraged to promote phone or online ordering and curbside pickup; school events and athletics will be limited to only participants, support staff and parents and siblings with no other attendees and face coverings are required; recreational leagues may continue but attendance should be limited to participants and only parents and minor children of those parents; senior center activities must be canceled or postponed; and hospitals, long-term care centers and other congregate settings should limit visitation based on community metrics.
Counties will be expected to implement more restrictive measures if they move up a color code, but in order to ease restrictions they have to enter and stay in a lower color code for at least two consecutive weeks.
Nicole Minier contributed to this article.