According to the state’s COVID-19 tracking map, Fulton, Pulaski, Marshall and Kosciusko counties are now in the more serious “orange” category, which indicates high spread of the virus.
Elkhart, LaGrange, LaPorte and Starke counties are still in the “yellow” category, which indicates moderate spread of the virus. Two weeks ago, all WVPE listener counties hit “yellow” for the first time since April.
St. Joseph County also remained “yellow,” but deputy county health officer Dr. Mark Fox said that’s only because the statewide map uses data through the previous Sunday.
He said that today, the county recorded enough cases — 200 per 100,000 — to put it in the “orange.” And if the current case rate continues through the weekend, Fox said he expects to see the county move into the “orange” on the state map next week.
“We’re really, really, really dark yellow — like gold, almost orange,” Fox said. “Behave as if we’re in the orange now, because that’s what our real-time data shows here in the county.”
Due to the high level of cases, Fox said St. Joseph County will start publishing COVID-19 metrics every day. The county moved to a once-per-week release back in June when cases hit an all-time low.
Statewide, the vast majority of Indiana counties are now “orange.” Only nine remain “yellow,” and 16 counties in central and southern Indiana are in the “red,” meaning unchecked community spread of the virus.
Hospitalizations in Healthcare District 2, which covers most of the WVPE listening area, have also increased.
As of Aug. 24, 115 patients are hospitalized with COVID-19 — that’s 30 more people, or a 35.3 percent increase from last week — and 32 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 — it currently makes up 97.6 percent of cases sampled in August — and underwhelming levels of vaccination.
According to the state’s vaccine dashboard, 52.3 percent of Hoosiers aged 12 and over are fully vaccinated, but vaccination rates vary widely by zip code.
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.
All WVPE listener counties — including Berrien, Cass and St. Joseph up in Michigan — fall under “high” community spread.
So, why is there a difference between the CDC and the state? Fox said both look at the same metrics — cases per 100,000 in the preceding week and the percent positivity over a seven-day period.
However, “the state uses more generous cut points,” Fox said.
The CDC transitions to “red” — the highest alert category — at over 100 cases per 100,000 people, whereas the state transitions to “orange” at over 200 cases per 100,000 people.
The agency also recommends unvaccinated Americans — which includes all children under 12 — wear masks indoors at all times, even if COVID-19 cases are low.
And with students back in school across Michiana, many area districts have started requiring face masks following numerous recommendations from county health departments and health care professionals.
South Bend Community School Corporation implemented a universal mask mandate Aug. 2, the earliest district to do so. Goshen Community Schools required masks for all K-6 students starting Aug. 23, after previously requiring them for staff and visitors in K-6 schools Aug. 12.
Mishawaka, Penn-Harris-Madison and Elkhart Community Schools all started the year mask optional, but all three districts have since implemented mask mandates.
Mishawaka’s started Aug. 23 after the district recorded 25 COVID-19 cases in the first four days of school, and Penn-Harris-Madison’s mandate became effective yesterday. Since the start of school last Wednesday, PHM has recorded 19 positive COVID-19 tests, and 125 staff and students have been sent home as close contacts.
Elkhart Community Schools implemented their mask mandate effective Aug. 26 after about 60 positive cases in the first week of school, but Superintendent Steve Thalheimer said enforcement will not begin until Aug. 30. Other area districts have remained mask optional.
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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