INDIANAPOLIS — La Porte County has moved into the “Orange” category as the Indiana State Department of Health nearly doubled the number of counties designated as higher-risk locations for coronavirus spread on Wednesday.
Forty of Indiana’s 92 counties were placed into the red (highest risk) or orange (second highest) levels under the agency’s color-coded weekly tracking map update, while 22 counties were at those levels last week.
In Northwest Indiana, La Porte, St. Joseph, Lake and Jasper counties are now orange.
In La Porte County, weekly COVID-19 cases per 100,00 residents increased to 228 in the latest ranking, while the 7-day average of positive test results increased to 8.4 percent for all tests reported and 11.2 percent for unique individuals tested.
The Indiana State Department of Health on Wednesday reported 1,766 additional Hoosiers have been diagnosed with COVID-19, bringing the total to 152,396. Another 15 deaths were reported, bringing the toll to 4,023 Hoosiers confirmed or presumed to have died from COVID-19.
In La Porte County, 54 new cases were reported Wednesday, along with the 58th death from COVID-19.
To date, 1,581,109 unique individuals have been tested in Indiana, up from 1,572,350 on Tuesday. A total of 2,574,800 tests, including repeat tests for unique individuals, have been reported. In La Porte County, 26,460 tests have been reported.
The highest-risk red counties are now scattered across the state, including hotspots in western Indiana, some rural counties in the eastern part of the state, and those around Evansville in the southwest corner.
Indiana’s remaining 52 counties – including Porter, Starke and Marshall, all of which are yellow – received blue or yellow ratings based on the number of new cases per 100,000 residents and percentage of tests confirming infections.
The 1,484 COVID-19 hospitalizations reported Tuesday put Indiana at its highest level since early May, ISDH reported. Such hospitalizations have grown by more than 50 percent since Sept. 22 – the day before Gov. Eric Holcomb lifted most restrictions on businesses and gatherings.
Holcomb took on conservative criticism over his pandemic orders as he faced his two re-election challengers in a televised debate Tuesday night.
Holcomb, a Republican, also faced arguments from Democratic candidate Woody Myers that he’s been too passive in the state’s recent response as Indiana has seen steep increases in coronavirus-related deaths, infections and hospitalizations since Holcomb lifted nearly all coronavirus restrictions on businesses and crowd sizes.
But some conservatives around the state have argued Holcomb has exceeded his authority with a statewide mask mandate and executive orders forcing the closure of businesses deemed nonessential during the early weeks of the pandemic.
That has some longtime Republicans saying they’ll vote for Libertarian Donald Rainwater, who said during the debate that Holcomb’s actions exceeded the Constitution’s intent and infringed on individual liberty.
Holcomb said his actions were needed during a public health emergency.
“Our individual liberty needs to be guarded,” Holcomb said. “When that liberty, or those actions, start to infringe on someone else that’s where we have to take a look at the public safety. It is just like a seatbelt, it’s just like wearing shoes in a restaurant, it’s just like fire codes – they’re meant for safety procedures.”
Myers, a physician and former state health commissioner, criticized Holcomb for issuing a mask mandate that many people ignore since it doesn’t include penalties for violators.
“If what we were doing was working, then we wouldn’t have record numbers,” Myers said. “Our positivity rate is going up and our hospitals are filling up.”
Rainwater, an information technology manager from Westfield, has said he would undo Holcomb’s executive orders, and said Tuesday he would ask lawmakers to limit the emergency powers the governor has used for the past seven months.
“I don’t believe the governor is a legislator,” Rainwater said. “The governor is supposed to execute the laws that are passed by the General Assembly.”
The hourlong debate occurred two weeks before Election Day with candidates and the moderator in separate areas of the WFYI-TV studio in Indianapolis because of COVID-19 precautions. The candidates are scheduled to take part in a second debate on Oct. 27.