The nation's leading expert on infectious diseases said this week that Indiana is among seven states where coronavirus cases are “at risk of surging.”
Those states “are starting to see an increase in the percent positive of their testing; that is generally predictive that there's going to be a problem,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told Bloomberg for a story published Thursday.
The White House Coronavirus Task Force considers at least 100 new virus cases per 100,000 population as being the highest-risk “red zone” areas of COVID-19 infections, according to documents obtained by news media and the U.S. House Select Committee on the Coronavirus Crisis. A New York Times database puts Indiana at 96 cases per 100,000 residents over the past seven days.
But task force adviser Dr. John Fleming insisted Thursday that Indiana is “in the mid-range” for infections and “doing pretty well” except for Marion, Lake and St. Joseph counties. Marion and Lake are the state's two most populous counties, and St. Joseph ranks fifth.
“You do have some kind of hot spots there. But I would say overall that Indiana is doing pretty well. What we're seeing is that after a peak in July that cases have come down,” said Fleming, a deputy chief of staff at the White House, in a telephone interview.
He said Indiana is in the task force's “yellow zone” because its positive rate for virus tests is between 5% and 10%. The red zone is for states with more than 10% of their tests coming back positive, he said, and the green zone, or lowest-risk states, have a positive rate of less than 5%.
The Indiana State Department of Health pegs Indiana's positive test rate at 7.4% for the past seven days.
“As kids go back to school and as we go through Labor Day, you might spike up a little bit above 10%. But the overall trends are still down,” Fleming, who is a physician, said about the Hoosier State. “So I think very shortly you will see those numbers sink down to where they are now and even lower.”
Whether communities cancel Labor Day parades, picnics and other public gatherings is “a local decision, but I don't think they necessarily have to,” he said. The Hoosier Heartland Area Labor Federation, AFL-CIO, announced this week it had called off its annual Labor Day picnic at Fort Wayne's Headwaters Park because of the pandemic.
“We're not suggesting from Washington that you can't have a parade, or you can't have a picnic,” Fleming said. “You may choose not to, and certainly that might be the right decision for you.”
He said people should wear masks, wash their hands and socially distance even when outdoors, where virus particles more quickly disperse.
President Donald Trump continues to make public appearances and have campaign rallies where attendees do not wear masks or socially distance.
“The president can't control what people do when they gather. ... We can't control what their distance is from each other; that's up to them,” said Fleming, Trump's assistant for planning and implementation.
He added: “We're a country of individualists. We believe in individual responsibility. So it's really up to you to abide by those recommendations (on virus protection).
“And if you happen to be somebody who is elderly or have co-morbid conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension, cancer, obesity, then you might want to stay away from some of these gatherings because the risk of this infection is pretty significant for these vulnerable groups. On the other hand, young healthy adults and kids have much less risk from bad outcomes.”
Fleming, a former Republican congressman from Louisiana, reinforced previous White House statements that a coronavirus vaccine will be available in coming months.
“Not only have our treatments and our therapeutics gotten better, but we have three vaccines, and more to come, that are in final stages of testing,” he said. “So we expect to have an excellent vaccine that's fully safe by the end of the year. And that should end this pandemic.”
At a glance
An additional 1,110 Hoosiers have been diagnosed with COVID-19, the Indiana State Department of Health said Thursday. That brings to 96,854 the number of state residents known to have the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.
A total of 3,110 Hoosiers are confirmed to have died from COVID-19, an increase of four from the previous day. Another 219 probable COVID-19 deaths have been reported based on clinical diagnoses where no positive test is on record. In Allen County, 65 residents have tested positive and four more have died, bringing the total to 5,126 cases and 179 deaths Thursday.
New cases in other area counties (with totals in parentheses):
Adams: 3 (192)
DeKalb: 5 (367)
Huntington: 4 (174)
Kosciusko: 24 (1058)
LaGrange: 9 (612)
Noble: 7 (821)
Steuben: 6 (296)
Wabash: 4 (218)
Wells: 2 (217)
Whitley: 7 (219)
Sources: Indiana State Department of Health, Allen County Department of Health, DeKalb County Health Department