For the first time since February, there are no Indiana counties in the “blue” category — indicating low spread of the virus — on the state’s COVID-19 tracking map. Almost all WVPE listener counties remained in the “yellow” category, indicating moderate spread of the virus, but Fulton County has moved to the more serious “orange” category, which indicates high spread.
Over two-thirds of Indiana counties are now in the orange, and 11 counties in southern and central Indiana are in the “red” category, meaning unchecked community spread of the virus. Only 19 Indiana counties are left in the yellow, and none are in the blue.
Hospitalizations in Healthcare District 2, which covers most of the WVPE listening area, have also increased.
As of August 17, 85 patients are hospitalized with COVID-19 — that’s 23 more people, or a 37 percent increase from last week — and 27 percent of ICU beds are available.
The surge in cases across the state has been driven by the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant and underwhelming levels of vaccination.
According to the state’s vaccine dashboard, 51.6 percent of Hoosiers aged 12 and over are fully vaccinated. That’s an increase of about 340,000 people from last week — and the state hit 3 million vaccinated residents last Friday — but vaccination rates vary widely by zip code.
Scientific studies have found being fully vaccinated offers significant protection against the Delta variant. But starting this September, the United States is rolling out third dose booster shots for fully vaccinated individuals in an effort to boost immunity. Fully vaccinated Americans will be eligible for a booster eight months after their second shot.
Dr. Genevieve Lankowicz, Saint Joseph Health System’s chief clinical officer, is urging all Michiana residents to take precautions against COVID-19 — especially getting vaccinated.
“Just about a month ago, we were practically celebrating because we had few cases and few hospitalizations and we thought we were in the clear,” Lankowicz said in a statement. “It’s true that businesses and places of work, even our schools, made decisions based on the situation we were in a month ago, which was great, but things have changed.”
And according to the Centers for Disease Control, every Indiana county has “substantial” or “high” community spread of the virus, meaning both vaccinated and unvaccinated Hoosiers should wear masks indoors.
The CDC recommends unvaccinated Americans — which includes all children under 12 — wear masks indoors at all times, even if COVID-19 cases are low.
With the start of the school year, area students are heading back for in-person learning. South Bend Community School Corporation implemented a universal face mask mandate Aug. 2, and Goshen Community Schools made masks mandatory for staff and visitors in K-6 schools last week.
But many other area districts — including Mishawaka, Elkhart, Concord and Penn-Harris-Madison — have remained mask optional. Both the St. Joseph County and Elkhart County health departments have recommended all K-12 schools implement universal mask mandates.
PHM’s mask optional policy has also faced criticism from the area’s only children’s hospital. Earlier this week, five Beacon Health leaders sent a letter to the school board saying the mask-optional policy “ignores the science and severity of the Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus.”
In a statement on Tuesday, PHM superintendent Jerry Thacker thanked the group on behalf of the school board and said the district would consider their guidance at the upcoming school board meeting on Aug. 23.
Indiana state education officials have “strongly urged” masks in schools, but will not require them and are leaving the decision up to individual districts.
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