COVID-19 spread now considered 'high' by state health officials

This is the latest COVID-19 distribution map from the Indiana State Department of Health.

For a while, Boone County officials have felt like the county would go red in terms of spread of COVID-19. Yesterday it happened to no one’s surprise, but now the sanctions imposed by the state are stricter than when the county was designated orange.

“It is not surprising with the steady increase of positive cases we have seen over the last few months,” Boone County Health Department’s Nursing Director Lisa Younts said in an email to The Lebanon Reporter. “This does require all social gatherings, inside or outside, to be limited to 25 people.”

The Indiana State Department of Health measures the weekly number of cases in a county combined with a positivity rate, which is based on the number of positive tests divided by the total of tests taken. Boone County had 586 cases per 100,000 residents. Of course, there aren’t 100,000 residents, so it is a calculation. Then, the positivity rate was logged at 17.44%. In order to be designated red, a county only has to have 200 cases per 100,000 and a rate of 15%.

There have been more than 5,000 cases and a total of 62 deaths in Boone County. Indiana reports more than 574,000 Hoosiers have contracted COVID-19 and there have been a total of 8,800 deaths.

A county will remain red until those metrics are improved two weeks in a row. In addition to social gatherings limited to 25, attendance at winter indoor K-12 extracurricular and co-curricular activities, including sports, is limited to participants, support personnel and parents or guardians. The state allows local officials to impose additional restrictions.

Boone County Commissioners declared a state of emergency under Indiana law for the majority of 2020 and all of this year so far. The executive body of the county has closed the courthouse to the general public and limited events at the county 4-H fairgrounds.

President of the Boone County Commissioners Tom Santelli said testing supplies have been limited, which is skewing the results and positivity rate, but says the number of patients at Witham Hospital is hovering at capacity.

“We had anticipated it,” Santelli said. “The only thing that is going to work to head this off is the vaccine.”

Santelli has been following the national and international developments with regard to the pandemic and vaccine. He said the vaccine is expected to be effective against the several variant mutations of the coronavirus. On Tuesday, the Boone County Health Department opened a vaccine clinic at the fairgrounds with 200 doses of the Moderna vaccine. According to state guidelines, health care personnel, law enforcement officers, firefighters and Hoosiers ages 70 and older are eligible to get the vaccine but must make an appointment through the state’s website at ourshot.in.gov.

Santelli said mathematically, residents should remain vigilant against COVID-19 until at least June when enough people will get the vaccine to begin to end the pandemic.

To that end, Santelli is looking for partnerships with emergency medical technicians and municipal departments to help administer vaccines, as well as provide space for increased clinics.

“It would be great to get some of their staff to relieve the staff at the health department,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of volunteers, but we really need a unified effort.”

He said he would like to see clinics in Whitestown and Zionsville to increase the number of vaccine recipients.

“The vaccine is going to start to flow in and we just need to get them in the arms,” he added.

For the last three weeks, the number of counties designated red has increased quickly. Now, 73 out of Indiana’s 92 counties are in the same boat with Boone County. That’s up from 57 last week. In District 5, which includes Boone County, all eight counties are red including Boone, Hamilton, Hendricks and Marion. Clinton and Montgomery counties are also red.

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