Counties keep higher-risk status for virus spreadDecember 24, 2020
By CASEY SMITH
The Associated Press/Report for America
INDIANAPOLIS — For a third straight week, more than a quarter of Indiana counties are rated with the highest risk level of coronavirus spread in Wednesday’s state update that continued to show no area in the low or moderate community spread zones.
The Indiana State Health Department tracking map labels 24 of the state’s 92 counties the most dangerous red category, down two from a week ago. All other counties are in the next-riskiest orange rating of the four-level system, which is updated weekly.
Those high risk counties are predominantly rural but include northern Indiana's Elkhart County and others clustered in the southeastern and western areas of the state.
The new county ratings come a day after state officials announced a flaw in Indiana’s COVID-19 reporting that is expected to change the state’s overall positivity rate and the metrics for individual counties once corrected.
Since the pandemic began, a software error has caused underreporting in statewide COVID-19 positivity rates and for individual counties, state Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box said Tuesday during a briefing on the state’s coronavirus response. The overall numbers of tests, positive cases and deaths remain accurate however, she said.
Box predicted that the state’s positivity rate would be two to three percentage points higher once the issue is fixed. Indiana's rate was reported at 12.1% for all tests administered as of Dec. 16.
The corrected data will be published online Dec. 30, in time for the state’s weekly update of county labeling. While the county-level impacts will vary, Box expects some smaller counties will see a decline in positivity rate after the changes.
Because the state uses a county’s positivity rate to determine which community restrictions that county should face, the corrected methodology could mean some Hoosiers will see loosened regulations, including to gathering sizes, business capacities and school operations.
The state health department on Wednesday added 62 confirmed COVID-19 deaths to the statewide toll. Those push Indiana’s toll to 7,645, including both confirmed and presumed infections, according to the state agency’s daily statistic update.
The state’s seven-day rolling average of COVID-19 deaths has decreased to 55 per day after that average rose Dec. 14 to a pandemic peak of 81 per day.
With another 4,731 diagnosed cases reported Wednesday, the number of Indiana residents known to have had the coronavirus is now up to 476,538.
The state agency additionally reported that 3,123 Hoosiers were hospitalized with COVID-19 on Tuesday, 59 more patients than were hospitalized as of Monday.
While Indiana’s front-line health care workers continue as the state's first to receive the vaccine against COVID-19, Gov. Eric Holcomb signed his 50th coronavirus-related executive order since March on Wednesday, extending temporary licensures for 90 days to allow health care professionals who are not currently licensed to practice in Indiana.
The Republican governor's order also allows properly trained individuals, such as certain paramedics, EMTs and members of the Indiana National Guard to administer the COVID-19 vaccine.
To date, 2,556,493 unique individuals have been tested in Indiana, up from 2,545,018 on Tuesday, the department said. A total of 5,376,575 tests, including repeat tests for unique individuals, have been reported to the state Department of Health since Feb. 26.
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