WHITLEY COUNTY — As the state of Indiana surpassed 5,000 coronavirus deaths this week, Whitley County contributed to that number, with a large spike in deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.

As of Sunday, Whitley County has tallied 10 deaths, which don’t necessarily follow the same age trend as the rest of the state.

Of the deaths, two have been age 80 or older, three between ages 70-79, two ages 60-69, two ages 50-59, and one between the 30-39-year-old range.

Comparatively, statewide, 52% of Indiana’s deaths have been individuals ages 80 and older, and 25% in the 70-79-year-old range. However, comparisons are difficult as Whitley County has a smaller sample size.

Whitley County saw its first COVID death on April 3 and had five more through July 9. The death rate has dramatically increased this month, with four recorded deaths between Nov. 12 and Nov. 18.

The county is averaging 759 cases per week per 100,000 people, putting it into the “red” status according to the Indiana Department of Health’s scoring system — in which red is the worst score with the most COVID activity.

As of the weekend, Whitley County was averaging 53 new COVID cases per day.

In reaction to the red status, many business and government entities in Whitley County have made changes, returning the county back to similar restrictions to March.

Amy Biggs, Whitley County Emergency Management Agency director, announced last week that access to government facilities is restricted to “by appointment only.” In addition, face coverings and appropriate social distancing is mandated when accessing or interacting with county employees.

Government facilities include the Whitley County Government Center, Whitley County Courthouse, Whitley County Sheriff’s Department, Community Corrections, Whitley County Highway Department, Whitley County Solid Waste District and Purdue Extension Office.

“We believe we are operating with due diligence and maximum proaction of our employees and the public at this time,” Commissioner Don Amber said.

Columbia City Mayor Ryan Daniel issued similar directives, closing City Hall bathrooms and allowing public entrance to City Hall by appointment only.

City government meetings will be available via Facebook Live, and non-essential meetings will be canceled.

The dropbox in front of City Hall can be used to pay utility bills, or customers can pay online.

The Eagles Ice Rink will be closed until the county moves to the orange category.

Daniel indicated that the city parks will remain open to the public after consulting with the Whitley County Health Department.

Whitley County Health Officer Dr. Mark Burkett continues to recommend the best way to protect others is to stay home if you or your family is sick.

“Taking this precaution combined with good personal hygiene, including washing hands before you touch your mouth, nose or eyes, along with social distancing and wearing a face covering, is the most effective way to avoid becoming infected with the virus,” Burkett said in a news release.

Burkett issued a public health order last week, setting restrictions on several events in addition to Governor Eric Holcomb’s executive order.

All gatherings and events are limited to 25 people while the county remains in red status. When the county moves to orange, that limit increases to 50 people.

Plans can be submitted to the Health Department for larger events for review, but it has been ordered that no events will exceed 100 people while the county is in the red status, including local sporting events.

Capacity is limited to 75% for indoor seating at Whitley County restaurants and 100% of outdoor capacity. Outdoor tent seating is only permitted if the tent has at least two open-air sides for maximum ventilation.

Table seating is limited to 10 people per table and self-serve food stations are not permitted.

While other places across the country are enacting curfew times, that has not been ordered in Whitley County. However, Burkett encourages businesses to limit the number of customers, vendors, visitors and patrons within their establishments during peak business hours, 8 a.m.-8 p.m.

Religious worship services are exempt from the order, but it is recommended that places of worship limit attendance based upon capacity in order to have individuals socially distanced, and use face coverings until seated.

In addition, the annual Lighted Holiday Parade downtown has been canceled, as well as Santa’s House.

The Turkey Trot 5K at the Whitley County Family YMCA has also been canceled.

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