Weekly ratings Nov. 18

Indiana’s COVID-19 spread ratings worsened for the second week in a row, with northeast Indiana continuing as the state’s worst region. LaGrange and DeKalb counties together hold the dubious distinction of the state’s highest per-capita case rate and positivity rates this week.

INDIANAPOLIS — Amid rising COVID-19 activity again, Indiana’s county ratings measuring spread of the virus worsened again this week.

Locally, color-coded ratings remained the same as a week ago — LaGrange and DeKalb counties in the worst rating at red and Noble and Steuben in the second-worst orange — as northeast Indiana as a region remains the state’s biggest hotspot.

Statewide, ratings degraded for the second straight week as Indiana is again seeing rising cases of COVID-19 and hospitalizations related to the virus. Indiana saw about six weeks of improvement after hitting a peak in virus activity during mid-September, but the downswing ended at the start of this month as colder weather set in, leading to rising activity once again.

The state has six counties rated red for very high spread of the virus, five of which are located in the state’s northeast quadrant. That’s an increase from three red counties last week.

The numbers of counties rated orange, representing high spread, shot up from 44 a week ago to 62 this week amid rising case counts and positivity rates.

Yellow counties, representing moderate spread, dropped amid the shift to orange, from 44 last week to 21 this week. The state did see an increase in blue counties, showing low spread, from one to three, although the improvement was overshadowed by many more counties moving the opposite direction.

Locally, the picture remains the same as a week ago with two counties in red and two in orange.

But of those two in red, they together hold the state’s highest positivity rate, the state’s second-highest positivity rate, and the state’s highest per-capita case counts on the week.

LaGrange County stayed in red for the third straight week as it continues to boast the state’s worst positivity rate. Cases per capita in LaGrange increased to 262 per 100,000, up from 224 per 100,000 last week, while positivity increased again to 22.22%, up from 21.49% last week.

Counties earn a red rating if both cases per capita exceed 200 per 100,000 and positivity tops 15%.

LaGrange County has been above 15% positivity rate every week since Sept. 22.

It’s the third week in a row that LaGrange County has had the state’s highest positivity rate. LaGrange County is susceptible to wild swings in its positivity rates as the county tests the least per-capita in all of the state, meaning that when it does detect positive cases, each one influences the percentage swing more than in counties that test much more broadly.

But that also means that LaGrange County’s weekly case counts are also likely artificially low as compared to higher-testing counties.

DeKalb County also stayed red for the second week, with 648 cases per 100,000 residents — highest in the state — up from 356 per 100,000 last week, and rising positivity to 19.21% — second highest in the state behind only LaGrange County — up from 15.09% last week.

Noble and Steuben counties stayed orange, although both saw their local metrics worsen compare to a week ago. In Noble County, cases were up to 412 per per 100,000, up from 301 per 100,000 last week, and positivity rose to 13.33% from 11.73% last week.

Steuben County also saw cases rise to 502 per 100,000 from 332 per 100,000 last week, with positivity also up to 10.59% from 8.38% last week.

Northeast Indiana remains the state’s worst region of the state. Along with LaGrange and DeKalb counties, neighboring Elkhart County has turned red this week. Of the 12 counties in the 3rd Congressional District, three are now red — Jay County joined LaGrange and DeKalb this week — while the rest are orange.

The entire northern half of the state is worse off than the southern half at this time. North of Indianapolis, there are only four counties clinging to yellow ratings, while south of the capital city, more than half of the counties still hold yellow or blue ratings.

Indiana appears to be entering another late-fall surge in virus activity as it went through in 2020. Although it’s unlikely the state will hit the record highs it hit last year prior to vaccine distribution starting, average weekly cases increased 70% this week compared to the previous week, while statewide hospitalizations jumped 14% from the week prior, with both metrics showing increasing trends recently.

It appears that COVID-19, like other viruses, may experience some seasonality. Cases were at their lowest points during summer 2020 and 2021, and have run higher in the fall and winter months.

The majority of new cases still continue to fall upon unvaccinated Hoosiers, although breakthrough cases among vaccinated people continue to rise and Indiana is now reporting reinfection cases — people who contracted the virus a second time, totaling 4,261 as of Wednesday.

Statistically, Hoosiers who have immunity, whether via vaccination or a previous infection, are less likely to contract the virus than people who have received no immune protection. Historically, people who have been vaccinated and suffer a breakthrough are also less likely to be hospitalized and less likely to die than unvaccinated people who contract the virus.

Indiana’s vaccination rates have stalled in recent weeks, hitting all-time lows even after the state came out of its late-summer surge in which the highly infectious delta variant was tearing through unvaccinated cohorts.

The state has started to vaccinate children age 5-11, who just recently became eligible for a reduced-strength shot as compared to adults, and has continued to distribute booster shots to at-risk groups including people who are immuno-compromised, over 65 years old or having other health factors that increase their risk.

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