INDIANAPOLIS — More than 3-in-4 counties in Indiana are now rated in red, the worst rating, for COVID-19 spread, including for the first time all four counties in the far northeast corner of the state.
Noble County was rated red for its first time ever, joining LaGrange, Steuben and DeKalb counties who remain there since the previous week. Allen County returned to the red rating.
It's the first time the entire four-county area has been awash in red ratings.
The red rating represents very high spread of COVID-19 and results in gathering size restrictions of no more than 25 people.
A week after Northeast Indiana was looking a little brighter with many counties in orange, all four counties in the northeast corner and every other county that borders them in Indiana are red now, too.
The worsening of the local numbers came amid another worsening week on the state level, as now 73 of Indiana's 92 counties are rated red. The other 19 are orange for high spread, with another week of zero counties in yellow for moderate spread and blue for low spread.
After once having more than half of all counties in blue in September, Indiana hasn't had a single county rated blue since Nov. 4 and hasn't had — outside one county in a one-week blip following Christmas — any other counties in yellow for the last six weeks.
Noble County entered a red rating for its first time ever, breaking an 11-week streak of consecutive orange ratings.
The worsening in Noble County came due to a sharp increase in its positivity rate, hitting 17.79% for the past seven days, up significantly from 13.34% the previous week. The number of new cases per-capita also rose to 638 per 100,000, from 588 per 100,000 the previous week.
Counties enter a red rating if both per capita cases exceed 200 per 100,000 and positivity tops 15%.
The new red designation means that Noble County will be under new gathering size restrictions, limiting events to no more than 25 people. Previously under the orange rating, gathering sizes were capped at 50 people.
Noble County would need to have two consecutive weeks back in orange for the stricter restrictions to be lifted.
For LaGrange, Steuben and DeKalb counties, all three remain in red for another week, with a mixed bag of both increasing and decreases case counts and positivity depending on the county.
LaGrange County is in the red for the second week in a row and the ninth time in the last 10 weeks. Case counts remain the lowest in the region at 265 per 100,000 residents, although that's still high enough to stay in red and up from 201 per 100,000 a week ago. Positivity improved slightly, but still remains very high falling from 21.94% to 21.12%.
In Steuben County, it's the fourth consecutive week in red and the seventh time in the last 10 weeks. Case numbers rose to 615 per 100,000, up again from 578 a week ago, while positivity was up at 23.63% compared to 23.52% a week ago.
And DeKalb County held in red again for the seventh-straight week, where it's been for eight of the last 10 weeks. DeKalb County actually saw a minor improvement in case rates, dropping to 437 per 100,000 from 455 per 100,000 a week ago, but positivity rose sharply to 20.09% from 16.06% a week ago, suggesting that testing has dropped as a similar number of positive cases are still being identified.
A week ago, LaGrange, Steuben, DeKalb and Whitley counties were the only red-rated counties in the wider northeast Indiana region, but that's changed this week as the entire northeast quadrant of the state is painted red.
Elkhart, Kosciusko, Whitley and Allen counties are all red this week, along with Wells County to the south of Fort Wayne.
The local dip into red came as even more of Indiana turned that direction too. The number of counties in red rose to 73, up from 57 a week ago.
East-central Indiana and some of north-central Indiana are among the few regions with contiguous counties in orange, with the rest scattered randomly here and there throughout the state landlocked by seas of red.
The shift has come amid continually increasing positivity rates in counties.
Every county except for highly rural Newton County in northwest Indiana is over the 200 per 100,000 per capita mark in the ratings metric.
The state has seen several consecutive weeks at the end of 2020 with every county over the 200 per 100,000 threshold, so positivity has been the primarily determination for red vs. orange. Any county over 15% positivity is red and any below falls orange because case counts remain high.