ELKHART — Elkhart County went back into the highest COVID-19 alert level Wednesday after having dropped from red to orange last week.
For a county to be given the red color code, it must have 200 or more weekly cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 residents and a seven-day all-test positivity rate of 15 percent or more. Elkhart County’s numbers were 751 new cases per 100,000 residents and a 19.01 percent positive test rate.
Elkhart County Health Officer Dr. Lydia Mertz said the one-week drop from red to orange did not reflect reality but was caused by a high number of college students getting tested before going home before Thanksgiving, which resulted in the county’s positivity rate dropping to 14.7 percent.
This week’s change in color codes had no effect on health restrictions imposed by Gov. Eric Holcomb or Mertz. Among the restrictions still in place are the mask mandate and the limit of 25 people at gatherings.
Elkhart County remains the county in Indiana with the highest number of COVID-19 infections per 100,000 residents since March, at 9,649.1. The runner-up – and the only other county to be above 8,000 – is Cass County at 9,188.4. Several counties have a higher number of deaths per 100,000 residents than Elkhart County.
Mertz said last week that she hoped her public health orders issued in November would help weaken the expected surge that was expected to come as a result of gatherings from Thanksgiving. Indiana as a whole has set a new record for the average number of new cases per day since the holiday, but in Elkhart County, the number of new confirmed cases remains around 200 per day, about 100 fewer than when the average was at its highest just before Thanksgiving.
Elkhart County Health Department spokesperson Melanie Sizemore said that most of the Thanksgiving-related cases are expected to be reported Thursday or later due to the time that passes between incubation, feeling symptoms, getting tested and receiving test results.
“Now we will start to see those increases due to the Thanksgiving holiday,” Sizemore said.
The number of people getting tested in Elkhart County has decreased from about 600 per day before Thanksgiving to about 300 per day as of Dec. 2, which is the latest date with non-preliminary data for testing. In the same period, the positivity rate for individuals getting tested has increased from 30.4 percent to 36.8 percent, which is a new record.
“Fewer people are getting tested, but our positivity rate is higher than what it was,” Sizemore said. “We still need to have people that (have been in) close contact and that sort of thing get tested so we can understand if someone is asymptomatic and spreading the virus, and they don’t realize that they are.”
Another five Elkhart County residents have died from COVID-19, the Indiana State Department of Health reported Wednesday, bringing the county’s COVID-19 death tally to 269 since March. Ninety-nine of those deaths happened in the past 30 days. As of Tuesday, Dec. 8, the county had seen 25 confirmed COVID-19 deaths in December.
Statewide, 98 additional COVID-19 deaths were reported Wednesday, bringing the state’s death tally to 6,207.
The number of COVID-19 hospitalizations has decreased at both Elkhart General Hospital, which had 67 COVID-19 inpatients Wednesday, down from a high of about 90 three weeks ago; and Goshen Hospital, which had 36 COVID-19 patients Wednesday, down from a high of about 60 two weeks ago.