ANGOLA — With Steuben County firmly in an orange rating for the spread of COVID-19, local health officials are considering measures to possibly stem the tide of worsening case counts and positivity.
“We are actually working on potential protective measures,” said Alicia Walsh, administrator for the Steuben County Health Department.
What those measures might be won’t be known until they go before the Steuben County Board of Commissioners. Any new health emergency measures now have to secure the approval of boards of commissioners under a new law enacted this spring by the Legislature.
“Due to the new law,” Walsh said, “under a state of emergency we have to have approval by the board of commissioners.”
The new law approved in May through a legislative override of a veto by Gov. Eric Holcomb requires elected county commissioners or city councils to vote on approving any local health orders that are more stringent than those issued by the governor in order for them to go into effect.
Walsh said the Health Department has worked well with the commissioners since the onset of the pandemic last year and wants that to continue.
Walsh said she will most likely present a letter with recommendations to the commissioners to be discussed in their meeting on Monday because she has a conflict and won’t be able to attend the meeting.
On Tuesday, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommended vaccinated people wear masks in certain situations. Masks are still recommended for unvaccinated people. (See related story on Page A3.)
Walsh said Steuben County is starting to see breakthrough cases, those where vaccinated people are contracting COVID-19. She said the spread of the delta variant is also strong.
“We are seeing breakthrough cases and we’re seeing the delta variant,” she said. Two weeks or so ago, that wasn’t the case.
The jump up the scale for positivity in Steuben County has been driven by sharply rising positivity rates. After sitting in blue two weeks ago, Steuben went yellow last week and rose to orange this week.
Steuben County’s positivity is fifth-highest in the state right now at 15.34%, almost triple from 5.41% a week ago, while cases were down a bit, similar to a week ago at 89 per 100,000 from 98 per 100,000.
Walsh said the Health Department has brought back its mask policy, which had been lessened to allow employees to wear masks when up and about the office and dealing with the public.
The Health Department now requires employees to wear masks, and that also goes for members of the public visiting the office.
The best defense against COVID-19, Walsh said, would be seeing more people getting vaccinated in hopes of someday reaching herd immunity.
“Precautions need to be taken,” Walsh said. “We need more people in the population to get vaccinated.”
About 44% of Steuben County’s residents age 12 and older are vaccinated, but it will take about 70% to reach herd immunity.