ELKHART — Preliminary numbers show a recent decrease in the new number of COVID-19 cases in Elkhart County; officials remain cautious.
County officials continue to warn that a backlog in test processing is most likely making the preliminary numbers appear better than reality. With 25 new cases reported on Wednesday, Elkhart County’s preliminary seven-day moving average is 46, down from a recent high of 60 in mid-July. The average seven-day moving average reached 78, its highest point, on June 18.
“Getting accurate data right now is nearly impossible,” said county Health Department spokesperson Melanie Sizemore. “We have roughly 600 tests out in the county that go back all the way to the 3rd or 4th of July.”
The bottleneck is an issue, not just because it makes it impossible to know the exact state of the local outbreak, but because a two-week delay for an asymptomatic carrier of the coronavirus could mean that they and the health authorities do not find out they were infected until after they no longer carry the virus.
“We’re then trying to do contact tracing after the fact, which is totally ineffective,” Sizemore said. “That in itself can cause more spread.”
Residents can get test results faster than that by going to the Indiana State Department of Health testing sites in Elkhart and Goshen, as the state is able to get tests processed in a matter of days, Sizemore said. Most affected by the backlog are tests performed by Goshen Health, which on Monday reported having more than 500 outstanding tests.
However, that does not mean that Goshen Health is alone in experiencing the bottleneck, which stems from the laboratories LabCorp and Quest Labs, according to Sizemore.
Elkhart County has been seen as a coronavirus hotspot in Indiana in recent months, but if the trends shown by ISDH data are accurate, Indiana as a whole is seeing a more negative trend than Elkhart County for new cases.
Gov. Eric Holcomb on Wednesday extended stage 4.5 of the state’s “Back on Track” plan through Aug. 27. The state was supposed to enter stage 5 on July 4.
Elkhart County, which never moved to stage 4.5, remains in stage 4 until Friday at the earliest. Sizemore said she expects Elkhart County Health Officer Dr. Lydia Mertz to announce Thursday whether the county will then move to stage 4.5 and thereby lifting some restrictions on schools, outdoor activities and more.
The CDC team in Elkhart County left Tuesday after originally planning to deliver its findings on July 23. Their stay was prolonged because of the test processing bottleneck, slowing down their data analysis, which the team will now have to do from its headquarters in Atlanta. The Elkhart County Health Department expects to have the report around Aug. 10.
By Wednesday, ISDH reported a total of 4,399 confirmed positive cases in Elkhart County. To date, 32,773 people have been tested, with 322 of those being reported Wednesday. One additional death was reported, taking the county’s death total to 72.