Elkhart County covid case graph Aug. 17, 2020

The number of new confirmed COVID-19 cases per day in Elkhart County has mostly decreased in recent weeks, but fewer people are getting tested and the positive test rate has increased.

ELKHART — A recent spike in the Elkhart County positive test rate for COVID-19 suggests community spread could be increasing, though it is too early to say with much certainty, according to the county Health Department.

For weeks, the number of new confirmed infections has mostly trended down, and the positive test rate had done the same, with the seven-day moving average at about 8 percent or 9 percent since July 19. But as of Aug. 10, the latest date for which positive rates are not considered preliminary, the average hit 12.1 percent.

That, along with the fact that the number of Elkhart County residents getting tested has continued to drop since July 17, means that the positive picture that the graph for new COVID-19 cases was painting may have been a bit too rosy.

“If there are fewer people getting tested and the positivity rate is going higher, that means we have more community spread,” said county Health Department spokesperson Melanie Sizemore.

The figures are not necessarily cause for concern, she said, at least not yet.

The spike in the seven-day positive test rate average is a result of a week with several days at a normal level compared to the recent trend, followed by a few days with much higher rates, reaching 27.6 percent on Aug. 9. With 29 people tested, that day had the lowest number of tests reported in the county since April. The current seven-day moving average is 248 people tested per day, down from a high of 451 a month ago.

“While I don’t try to get terribly concerned about a single data point, if we continue to see a trend upward, then there would be continued cause for concern,” Sizemore said.

According to Sizemore, the Elkhart County Health Department wants to see a trend last for about a week before making adjustments. Sizemore did not say specifically what those adjustments might be but said they would depend on whether, for instance, it could be determined that a surge was mainly taking place within a certain group, such as younger or older residents.

1 death per day

The average number of deaths per day in Elkhart County continues to be at about one, with 16 reported deaths so far this month as of Monday. July, with 31 COVID-19 deaths in the county, was the deadliest month for the county so far. As of Monday, the virus had killed 92 Elkhart County residents since March.

The fact that the average number of deaths per day has been at one for over a month does not necessarily mean that the local outbreak is not getting better.

According to Elkhart County Health Officer Dr. Lydia Mertz, deaths often occur several weeks after someone becomes infected with the virus. Therefore, the number of recent deaths says more about the severity of the local outbreak several weeks ago than it says about the present.

Elkhart County hospitals had 19 COVID-19 patients as of Monday, compared to 18 last week and 37 in late July. Thirteen of the current patients are at Goshen Hospital, while six are at Elkhart General.

The health department is still awaiting a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that should enhance officials’ understanding of the local outbreak.

Follow Rasmus S. Jorgensen on Twitter at @ReadRasmus

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