The Journal Gazette
Thursday, September 03, 2020 1:00 am

State changes county virus rate system

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – State officials said Wednesday a new color-coded county map with recommendations for school districts with COVID-19 cases is being modified and will be posted by today.

State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box also acknowledged that even in the counties with the worst spread, the state doesn't recommend closing all in-person instruction. Instead, elementary schools should stay open even if in the red category.

But Box said these are not required actions – the decision is still up to local districts.

She explained that instead of a combination of three metrics, the county rate will now be an average of just two factors – new cases per 100,000 individuals and the positivity rate of tests. The map will be updated weekly.

Box said the third planned metric – change in positivity rate week to week – was determined to be too volatile after discussions with local health departments and school officials.

Box put up a slide during Gov. Eric Holcomb's weekly COVID-19 briefing. It shows only one of 92 counties in red, seven in orange, and the rest in yellow or blue. Blue is the least community spread, and red is the greatest.

In northeast Indiana, the county with the current worst spread is DeKalb County in orange.

The state reported 871 new cases and 13 new deaths on Wednesday.

Another Allen County resident died and 54 have tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total to 5,061 cases and 175 deaths Wednesday. Twenty-three new positive cases were reported in 10 other northeast Indiana counties.

Box was also asked about a statistic that spread on social media in the last week claiming the true toll of COVID-19 is much lower. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that only 6% of COVID-19 deaths list the illness as the sole reason for death, while the vast majority have other contributing factors.

Box said the percentage was misinterpreted and she pushed back hard – noting that many deaths involve more than one diagnosis. She said it is wrong to assume the remaining 94% of victims didn't die of COVID-19 – “that is absolutely incorrect.”

Box said that would be like saying someone with cancer who came in and died of a complication of his or her treatment – but also had hypertension and diabetes on their death certificate – didn't die of cancer.

She said COVID-19 can be a contributing cause of death for those with underlying conditions.

Dr. Jennifer Sullivan, head of the Family and Social Services Administration, agreed. She said that, for instance, if someone dies in a motorcycle accident, it is not marked as a COVID-19 death even if the person tested positive.

“This is done very appropriately,” she said, adding that comorbidities mean a higher risk of death for those suffering from COVID-19.

At a glance

COVID-19 deaths in Indiana increased 11% for August but were well below earlier peak months.

March 113

April 1,041

May 917

June 426

July 287

August 319 (as of 9/2)

Source: Indiana State Department of Health data


County health chief sees hopeful signs

Allen County's health commissioner said Wednesday that daily cases have dipped since a peak in the middle of August. The county's seven-day new-case average has gone from a high of 59 then to the mid-40s.

But that doesn't mean county residents are in the clear, Dr. Matthew Sutter said."Based on Harvard Global Health Institute thresholds, this would place the county in 'accelerated spread,'" he said in an email.

Two areas where the county has made progress are in deaths, which have remained relatively steady and now stand at 175, and hospitalizations.

"Our hospitals report they had a recent increase in cases, but that has stabilized," Sutter said. "We continue to hope for an effective vaccine as the most likely path towards being able to safely relax restrictions, masking and social distancing."

- Rosa Salter Rodriguez, The Journal Gazette

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