Most of northeast Indiana's counties qualify for the high or substantial level of COVID-19 transmission – levels at which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now recommends mask-wearing indoors for both vaccinated and unvaccinated people.
Allen County – as well as Adams, DeKalb, Huntington, Noble, Wabash and Whitley counties – are at the high level. Kosciusko, Steuben and Wells County are experiencing substantial spread.
Only LaGrange County stands in the yellow, or moderate level, as cases throughout the region surge.
Dr. Matthew Sutter, Allen County health commissioner, is urging county residents to follow CDC recommendations.
“Allen County does not have specific (mask-wearing) guidelines,” he wrote in an email to The Journal Gazette. “The CDC guidance recommends universal masking for areas of high community transmission when gathering indoors, and their current data indicates Allen County is in that high category.
“We recommend everyone follow CDC guidance and wear a mask when gathering indoors regardless of vaccination status while Allen County is experiencing a high level of community transmission.”
Officials don't have plans, Sutter said, to put local restrictions in place. But that might change “if the situation worsens,” he said, adding he continues to monitor local, regional and national conditions.
Indoor locations include workplaces, and many employers, including General Motors' Fort Wayne plant, are now requiring masks. The requirement starts today, according to a statement from the United Auto Workers, the plant's union.
“The COVID-19 Joint Task Force, comprised of the UAW, Ford, General Motors and Stellantis, has determined that personnel will be required to wear masks at all plants, offices and warehouses, regardless of vaccination status, beginning Aug. 4,” the statement said.
“After reviewing the recently changed CDC guidelines and community COVID-19 trends, (we) decided it is best for worker safety to resume wearing masks in all worksites.”
About 4,400 people work at the local plant, the second largest number in the region, according to Greater Fort Wayne, an economic development group.
The CDC's assessment comes as the daily number of Allen County's new cases went to triple figures Tuesday for the first time since the beginning of May.
Allen County reported 114 cases Tuesday and two deaths, bringing the totals to 43,664 cases and 701 deaths. New cases have not been in triple digits since May 2, when county health officials reported 100 new cases.
The state also surpassed 1,000 new cases Tuesday for the sixth time in seven days. An additional 1,610 cases were reported, along with 13 additional deaths. The total of new cases Tuesday is the highest in nearly six months.
The state's totals are 775,686 cases and 13,596 confirmed deaths, plus 429 suspected deaths without a positive test.
The delta variant of the virus – now thought to be more contagious and potentially cause more serious illness – has been found to be affecting the largest portion of Hoosiers, according to Indiana Department of Health.
Delta is now found in 87.7% of state samples tested for variants – up from 31.6% four weeks ago. The state does not test each positive sample for delta, but a selection of them are tested from various areas around the state.
The state does not publicly report the number of variants by county. However, Sutter said that as of July 30, the delta variant had been found in 51 Allen County cases, but how many were tested for it is not known.
With Allen County's rising number of cases, hospitalizations in the state's District 3 in northeast Indiana also are rising. The state health department reported 113 confirmed and suspected COVID-19 patients Monday.
The district's hospitalizations, which typically lag cases by about two weeks, have been on a general upswing since the last week in June. The number of hospitalized patients now is at about the level seen in the first week of February, when the number of patients was going down.
District 3 had 22.5% of its 315 intensive care unit beds available as of Monday and 13.5% of beds occupied by COVID-19 patients. Only 4.5% of the district's 269 ventilators were in use for COVID-19 patients.
“We strongly encourage anyone who is still unvaccinated but eligible to make an appointment to get vaccinated,” Sutter said. “The vaccines are safe and still highly effective at preventing severe disease, hospitalization and death from the contagious delta variant of COVID-19.”
Allen County as of Tuesday had 159,773 fully vaccinated residents, 50.7% of eligible residents.
Those wishing to make an appointment can sign up at www.coronavirus.in.gov/vaccine/ or call 211. Many sites also accept walk-ins and local drugstores, including CVS and Walgreens, also provide vaccinations.
Expert: Vaccinations vital for retailers
An economist specializing in the retail industry said Tuesday that future U.S. economic growth depends on consumers receiving vaccines against COVID-19.
Jack Kleinhenz, chief economist for the National Retail Federation, said consumers are worried about new virus variants.
The pace of vaccinations “has slowed considerably,” and fears of the delta variant of COVID-19 – even though they haven't impacted consumer behavior yet – are “likely weighing on confidence,” he said in a statement.
“Vaccination is the key to further economic recovery, reopening and rebuilding,” Kleinhenz said. “With the outlook for the global economy continuing to hinge on public health, vaccine numbers are extremely important, not just for the United States but for the whole world.”
The Washington-based National Retail Federation bills itself as the world's largest retail trade association. The retail industry contributes $3.9 trillion to annual gross domestic product and supports 1 in 4 U.S. jobs.
– Sherry Slater, The Journal Gazette