Deaths of Allen County residents from COVID-19 reported since the start of the pandemic surpassed 1,000 Tuesday – as daily cases reached a new record and the entire state reached the red, or most serious, category for virus spread.
The spike in new cases also caused Allen County Superior Court and Circuit Court to halt jury trials beginning Monday until at least Feb. 14.
The county reported 20 new deaths Wednesday, bringing the total since the start of the pandemic to 1,013. And, after several days with lower numbers, a record 1,361 new cases also were reported Wednesday. The previous record was 1,244 cases, reported Jan. 5.
A “dramatic increase in positive COVID-19 cases and illness among litigants, jurors, prosecutors and other staff” led to the unanimous decision by the court's board of judges Wednesday to pause trials for three weeks. The required absences made it difficult to complete trials, court officials said.
Allen County Health Commissioner Dr. Matthew Sutter was not available for interview Wednesday. This week, he said he was hopeful the highly contagious omicron variant of the virus had reached its peak, but it was difficult to say if that was the case.
Sutter also has said the reported daily case numbers are likely an undercount because at-home rapid test results are not automatically reported to local and state health officials. Also, not everyone who is sick takes a coronavirus test.
In a joint statement Wednesday, Sutter and Mindy Waldron, Allen County Health Department administrator, said surpassing 1,000 deaths “is a solemn reminder that the pandemic is not over” and that work to fight the virus needs to continue.
“Our hearts go out to the Allen County families who have lost loved ones to COVID-19,” the two said.
Residents need to follow health officials' guidance, including getting vaccinated and receiving booster shots, officials said. They added the shots “are safe and ... extremely effective in preventing serious illness, hospitalization and death.”
“They remain the best ways to protect yourself and your family from COVID-19,” the local health officials said.
The state health department's new prevalence map released Wednesday shows all Indiana counties have 200 or more cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 residents and a seven-day positivity rate of at least 15%.
The positivity rate represents the percentage of positive tests compared to all tests in any given county. Allen County's positivity rate Wednesday stood at 32.6%, the highest in northeast Indiana.
All northeast Indiana counties' positivity rates were on the rise, according to the new statewide map.
It's a lagging indicator in that it measures cases for the seven previous days ending Jan. 17.
Allen County court officials said this week's trials should be finished before Monday. Bench trials, sentencings and guilty pleas will take place as scheduled during the pause in proceedings, officials said.
Allen County courts have never closed even for a day because of COVID-19, although jury trials were paused twice.
“Throughout the pandemic, we have gone to extraordinary lengths to keep the courts moving forward,” said Judge Fran Gull, administrative judge of Superior Court's criminal division.
“Hopefully, this current surge has peaked, and trials can resume in three weeks. But for the time being, health and safety need to be our number one priority,” she said in a news release.
Five to 10 trials will be affected, court officials said. Jurors who received notices to appear between Jan. 25 and Feb. 10 may disregard them.
Several Indiana counties' courts are being similarly affected, court officials said.
Statewide, 16,502 new confirmed COVID-19 cases were reported Wednesday, making the state's seven-day positivity rate 30%. Newly reported deaths stood at 118.
The state's totals stand at 1,490,496 confirmed cases and 19,761 confirmed deaths plus 739 probably deaths based on symptoms but without a positive test.
As of Jan. 3, the most recent statewide date available, 85.4% of samples tested for variants found the omicron variant. The delta variant showed up in 14.6%.
At a glance
COVID-19 seven-day positivity rates in northeast Indiana counties as of Monday:
Source: Indiana State Department of Health