Montgomery County moved into the red zone for COVID-19 infections as expected Wednesday, bringing new state-mandated restrictions on social gatherings for the rest of the holiday season.
The state’s weekly COVID-19 map showed the county with a seven-day infection rate of 826 cases per 100,000 people and a seven-day average positivity rate of 18.56%.
Indoor and outdoor social gatherings that cannot be canceled are limited to 25 people and restaurants and retail stores were encouraged to promote phone or online ordering for curbside pickup.
Restrictions are also placed on attendance at school sporting events and co-curricular activities. The social gathering limits do not apply to churches, but health officials encourage people to worship virtually.
Customers and employees are required to wear masks in all businesses and restaurants unless eating and drinking.
Health officials urge families to limit holiday gatherings to people from their own household. As many as 40% of those with COVID-19 may have minimal or no symptoms, making it easier for the illness to be transmitted in social gatherings.
The red-level category is based on an infection rate of over 200 cases per 100,000 residents and an average positivity rate of greater than 15%. The county must fall below that threshold for two consecutive weeks to move out of the red.
For a third straight week, more than a quarter of Indiana counties are rated with the highest risk level of coronavirus spread in Wednesday’s state update that continued to show no area in the low or moderate community spread zones.
The Indiana State Health Department tracking map labels 24 of the state’s 92 counties the most dangerous red category, down two from a week ago. All other counties are in the next-riskiest orange rating of the four-level system, which is updated weekly.
Those high risk counties are predominantly rural but include northern Indiana’s Elkhart County and others clustered in the southeastern and western areas of the state.
The new county ratings come a day after state officials announced a flaw in Indiana’s COVID-19 reporting that is expected to change the state’s overall positivity rate and the metrics for individual counties once corrected.
Since the pandemic began, a software error has caused underreporting in statewide COVID-19 positivity rates and for individual counties, state Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box said Tuesday during a briefing on the state’s coronavirus response. The overall numbers of tests, positive cases and deaths remain accurate however, she said.
Box predicted that the state’s positivity rate would be two to three percentage points higher once the issue is fixed. Indiana’s rate was reported at 12.1% for all tests administered as of Dec. 16.
The corrected data will be published online Dec. 30, in time for the state’s weekly update of county labeling. While the county-level impacts will vary, Box expects some smaller counties will see a decline in positivity rate after the changes.
Because the state uses a county’s positivity rate to determine which community restrictions that county should face, the corrected methodology could mean some Hoosiers will see loosened regulations, including to gathering sizes, business capacities and school operations.
On the vaccine front, some local health care workers have begun receiving their first shots, which are being administered at Witham Health Services in Lebanon.
More than 40,000 health care workers were expected to have received their first dose of the vaccine by Tuesday. An additional 90,000 are scheduled to receive shots by Jan. 4, said Dr. Lindsay Weaver, the state health department’s chief medical officers.
Local long-term care residents may start being vaccinated after Monday, depending on shipments of the Moderna vaccine from the state, the county health department said. Those residents will be vaccinated by employees of CVS or Walgreens.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.