Statewide color made, Nov. 11, 2020

Indiana’s governor announced Wednesday that some coronavirus restrictions are being reinstated after several weeks of sharp increases in COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths.

Howard County is one of those areas that have seen jumps in positive cases and was designated an “orange” area, suggesting the county has “moderate to high” COVID-19 spread, for the first time since the state launched its color-coded map in early September.

The designation comes as no surprise to local officials as the county has seen a three-fold increase in the moving daily average of positive COVID-19.

On Wednesday, the county reported 40 new COVID-19 cases and no new deaths, according to the ISDH. The county’s seven-day positivity rate is 7.6% for all tests and 16.5% for those being tested for the first time.

Statewide, 5,156 new cases of COVID-19 and 31 new deaths were reported on Wednesday, setting a new record for daily positive cases.

“Our cases are up, and we need to be really vigilant about it, and be mindful and continue to do the things we know we need to be doing – social distancing, wearing masks,” Howard County Commissioner Paul Wyman said in a COVID-19 update video posted Sunday on his Facebook page.

Hospitalization rates in the county, though, remain “pretty good,” Wyman said.

As of Sunday, 20 people are in local hospitals due to COVID-19, with just a “few” on ventilators.

“It is a little bit different today than it was eight months ago,” Wyman said about the hospitalization in the county. “Eight months ago, we had a lot of people in the hospital, we were running out of PPE [personal protective equipment] and many, many people on ventilators.”

Howard County’s number of deaths is now at 72, with the most recent deaths being long-term care facility residents, Wyman said. Of the county’s 72 deaths, 58 have been long-term care residents.

Since the Indiana Department of Health launched the new color-coded map, Howard County remained either blue or yellow each week since September, suggesting minimal to moderate community spread.

Now, all but 14 counties are labeled orange. Nine counties – Clay, Decatur, Fayette, Fountain, LaGrange, Newton, Perry, Union and Warren – are labeled red, the highest level of spread.

Just five counties – Crawford, Fulton, Monroe, Putnam and Switzerland – are in yellow, and no counties are blue, suggesting there is medium to high community spread throughout most of the state.

New steps to stop spread

The new steps being imposed by Gov. Eric Holcomb will limit crowd sizes in those counties at the higher-risk levels of coronavirus spread and would cover 87 of the state’s 92 counties as of Wednesday’s update from the state health department.

A new executive order starting this weekend will limit crowd sizes to 20 people in the highest-risk red counties and 50 people in the next-riskiest orange counties. The new order will also limit capacity at K-12 sports and extracurricular events.

Holcomb said he was also extending the statewide mask mandate for another month.

Holcomb had decided in late September to lift nearly all of Indiana’s business and crowd size restrictions. Since then, Indiana hospitals have seen a 200% increase in COVID-19 patients and the seven-day rolling average deaths has gone jumped from 10 a day to 38, just short of the state’s peak in late April.

State health officials on Wednesday added 31 more deaths to Indiana’s pandemic toll, raising it to 4,762 fatalities, including confirmed and presumed coronavirus infections since March.

Indiana hospitals were treating 2,544 COVID-19 patients as of Tuesday — a 200% increase since Holcomb announced on Sept. 23 his decision to leave coronavirus-related restrictions to local officials. In that time, Indiana’s seven-day rolling average COVID-19 deaths has jumped from 10 a day to 38, just short of the state’s peak in late April.

Holcomb said a day after winning reelection last week that he wasn’t planning any changes to COVID-19 policy, including no statewide closure of schools.

Tyler Juranovich can be reached at 765-454-8577, by email at tyler.juranovich@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter at @tylerjuranovich

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