County drops into the red zone for COVID-19 cases


Jackson County has fallen into the Indiana State Department of Health’s red level, one of the county’s top health officials said Tuesday afternoon.

Dr. Christopher Bunce, public health officer for the Jackson County Health Department, made that announcement during Schneck Medical Center’s weekly COVID-19 update.

Bunce, an infectious disease specialist at the Seymour hospital, said there are an estimated 17 other counties in Indiana in the red level for infection. The ISDH releases the status of each county at noon each Wednesday.

“We aren’t alone, but we are among the worst counties,” Bunce said.

The county has been at the orange level in recent weeks.

On what it means for a county to go from orange to red level, Bunce said there is a mandatory reduction of crowd sizes from 50 to 25, and the state takes a greater interest in the county and will meet more often with local health officials.

On Tuesday, Jackson County had a 20.1% positivity rate for COVID-19 cases. For a county to be classified at a red level, the positivity rate has to be more than 15%.

Positivity rate is determined by a seven-day moving average with a six-day lag. It’s calculated by dividing the total number of positive tests by the total number of tests administered. The reason for the lag is to give time to receive comprehensive results.

The current positivity rate for Jackson County would be for Nov. 18 to 24.

The 20.1% positivity rate also means Jackson County has the highest seven-day positivity rate in Indiana for all tests.

Bunce said county health officials continue to emphasize masking, social distancing and crowd reduction.

“Those are the most important tenets of prevention,” he said. “They’re proven, and if we follow them, this will get better.”

Bunce also said he has heard talk of people buying take-home COVID-19 tests from local pharmacies and other retailers but warned against relying on the results of those tests because they have lower sensitivity.

He recommended getting tested for COVID-19 at a site that does polymerase chain reaction or PCR tests, such as the one at the former Indiana State Police post building at 721 E. Tipton St., Seymour.

A PCR test detects infection by finding the presence of genetic material containing coronavirus. This is typically done through a nasal swab where the sample is then sent to a lab to test for coronavirus.

When questioned about antigen (or rapid) testing, Bunce said only symptomatic people should take them.

“A 15-minute test that is to be done on symptomatic people,” he said. “It’s a sensitive test, but its sensitivity drops significantly in people that have no symptoms.”

During the call, it was noted that break rooms have become common places for infection transmission.

“Anything you can do to get bigger spaces, to move people apart, to have people do breaks in shifts to keep people physically distanced is really going to help,” Bunce said. “It’s when the masks come off and the food goes in and conversation starts is where we have these transmissions.”

Bunce said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that most COVID-19 transmissions have come from asymptomatic people, and he personally understood and agreed with the statistic.

“That makes sense because sick people are more likely to stay away from other people,” he said. “Asymptomatic people are more likely to be social. If everyone acts as though they actually have COVID and takes the necessary precautions, then I think we’re going to be fine.”

While a negative test might seem like clearance to break quarantine, Bunce said that is not true since people can be asymptomatic but still test positive.

“It can be falsely reassuring, and in fact, it can be hazardous to other people that they come around and they think that they’ve gotten out of quarantine with a test,” Bunce said.

He also said he does not recommend people who are in quarantine to get tested.

“The whole purpose of quarantine is to stay away from other people during the period that you’re likely to develop asymptomatic or symptomatic infection,” Bunce said. “Once that period’s over, you’re in the clear, but we don’t test our way out of quarantine.”

On parents attending sporting events with a 25-person crowd limit, Bunce said, “There’s some contradiction that there’s a 25-person crowd limit, yet they’re allowing participants, and I think that’s the problem. I have no problem with parents, but you’re still dealing with a 25-person indoor/outdoor crowd restriction.”

Bunce said audiences are mainly responsible for infection transmission at sporting events, and that’s why crowd sizes are reduced at a red level.

He also said he did not see an issue with nursing home visits if they are conducted outside and social distancing and masks are used, but any indoor visits should not be happening at this time.

Toward the end of the update, Bunce thanked people throughout the community for their efforts in preventing infection.

“I thank you for all of the things you’re doing in the community,” he said. “I ask you to be patient because all of the measures you’re taking right now are working, but there’s going to be a significant lag time, so it’s going to seem like they’re not working, but if we hang in there, it’s going to pay off.”

The state announced Tuesday that 2,478 Jackson County residents have tested positive for COVID-19, an increase of 58 from Monday’s report.

No new deaths were reported in Jackson County on Tuesday, meaning the death toll remains at 34.

There have been 25,161 tests administered overall in Jackson County since March 18, an increase of 245 from Monday’s report.

The latest results were as of 11:59 p.m. Monday. The ISDH’s coronavirus dashboard is updated at noon daily.

On Tuesday, 5,518 additional Hoosiers across the state were diagnosed with COVID-19 through testing at the ISDH, CDC and private laboratories.

This brings to 344,373 the total number of Hoosiers known to have had the novel coronavirus following corrections to the previous day’s total.

Indiana’s total number of deaths attributed to COVID-19 is 5,598 with 142 new deaths being reported Tuesday. This is the largest single-day report of deaths related to COVID-19 in the state.

For the state, a total of 4,259,964 tests have been administered, an increase of 38,055 from Monday’s reported total.

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