ELKHART — A spike in the number of COVID-19 cases over the past two weeks puts Elkhart County high on a national list of places where a flareup of the coronavirus might come next.
And although the most recent daily report from the state shows a drop in confirmed cases, local health officials on Wednesday said few testing sites were open Memorial Day and it was too early to say whether the outbreak may be easing.
“We are waiting to see what the rest of the week looks like,” said Melanie Sizemore, a spokesperson for the Elkhart County Department of Health and a member of a local coronavirus task force.
The number of new cases confirmed in Elkhart County was 13, the Indiana State Department of Health said Wednesday, the lowest number in the daily report since 12 cases were reported on May 3. That raises the number of cases reported in the county since the outbreak began in mid-March to 1,070.
A report in the New York Times earlier week looked at five ways to monitor the coronavirus outbreak. It used census and health department data to provide a detailed picture of the pandemic. Charts and graphs simply showed the number of cases and deaths reported in an area, for example, or the number of recent cases and deaths in an area relative to its population.
One of the data sets looked at not just the number of cases but how fast the number of cases was rising, a compilation that put the Elkhart County metropolitan statistical area at No. 10 in the nation.
Over the past two weeks, Elkhart County had 516 new cases, the report said, giving it a daily growth rate of 6 percent. At that rate, the number of cases doubles every 12.6 days, the figure used to rank areas across the country.
The highest average daily growth rate in the nation was in Fayetteville-Springville, Arkansas, which had a growth rate of 12 percent and a doubling of cases every 6.2 days.
The New York Times was adjusting the figures daily, and on Wednesday the daily growth rate in Elkhart County was lowered to 5 percent with the number of cases doubling every 14.2 days. Still the recalculation left the Elkhart-Goshen area at No. 15 in the national ranking.
Local health officials said they were not surprised by the rankings and urged residents to take precautions.
“We are seeing an uptick in positive cases due to everything opening back up,” Sizemore said.
A statement released Wednesday by the Elkhart County Department of Emergency Management said residents should take heed of the Times report.
“This may be alarming to many of you and not so much for others,” the statement said. “The issue we are seeing is that as businesses open up and people are out and about, we see an increase in positive cases. This could make us one of the next outbreak locations.”
The statement reminded residents to wash their hands often, avoid close contact, cover their mouth and nose with a face cover when around others, cover coughs and sneezes, clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces, and monitor symptoms.
Elkhart Mayor Rod Roberson said he and other community leaders were aware of the uptick in cases and are concerned about the local increase even as state executive orders allow fewer restrictions.
“Unfortunately we’re suffering through an elevated number of confirmed cases, and so that is very worrisome,” Roberson said. “In addition to that, it appears as though the percentage of those that are testing positive is also increasing, so it isn’t just actual cases, it’s the percentage of those testing positive that also sends up a red flag.”
The daily report from the state indicated 123 new tests had been completed in Elkhart County between April 25 and May 25, bringing the total number tested to 8,364 and a positive testing rate of 12.8 percent.
The daily reports indicate the community should be more attentive to mitigating guidelines, Roberson said, and officials are watching to ensure health systems are not overwhelmed. He said tougher restrictions by individual communities or the county as a whole are not out of the question.
“We have been trying in a concerted way to deal with this, but it may not be stemming the tide,” Roberson said.