COVID-19 trends and updates
ST. JOSEPH COUNTY, Ind. – In St. Joseph County, they are not seeing as much of a daily rise in COVID-19 cases as of lately.
But it’s no secret there are a lot more people getting out of the house whether it’s for work, errands or even the several protests we’ve had in our area. And you’ve probably seen that not everyone is wearing a mask.
But is that reflecting in the number of coronavirus cases in the county? St. Joseph County health officials say not so much.
While health officials have expected a rise in cases as the state starts to reopen, each county is different and for St. Joseph County that’s just not the case.
“Mid-April, we were averaging about 35 new cases a day by late April it was down by to 14 new cases a day. That was when the back on track plan launched. Then it went up to 26, 27 cases a day and now we’re staying pretty consistently in the 14, 15 new cases a day,” Dr. Mark Fox with the St. Joseph County Health Department said.
“I don’t think it’s a secret, our numbers are still increasing. I attribute that to numerous things. We are doing more testing. Naturally, if you offer more testing, more testing sites, you’re going to have an increase in positives. But I think we’re hitting some demographics a little bit harder than we didn’t before,” However other neighboring counties, are struggling.
Jennifer Tobey, the Elkhart County Emergency Management Director said.
Tobey said the increased cases are a mixture of the state reopening and an increased reach into Latino, Amish and African American communities.
“It’s probably going to get worse before it gets better and that’s only because people did not like the stay-at-home orders,” she said.
Education, she said, is the best way to let people know what this new normal entails and their best weapon against this virus until a vaccine comes out.
“We’re going to start promoting some more educational in different ways of what does it actually mean to social distance, in what types of situations should you wear a mask,” she said.
Unlike, St. Joseph County, Elkhart County has no mask mandate and Tobey said that probably won’t change going forward.
Dr. Fox said there may be an increase in June with the protests and more people going outside but that’s not his biggest fear.
“At the same time with more outdoor activity, warmer more humid weather, we expect cases, that will slow down transmission – so that may be a wash,” he said. “My fear is that would be falsely reassuring to people because then in the fall when we get to colder weather and things are back to normal, that’s when we’re really at risk of cases mushroom dramatically.”
In both counties, health officials say that hospitals are not understaffed and there are enough hospital beds for COVID-19 patients, which is promising.
Dr. Fox also broke down and clarified a statement you might have heard from the World Health Organization on Monday that asymptomatic individuals are less contagious than those that are symptomatic.
The organization clarified Tuesday by saying there is still a lot that is unknown about the virus. Dr. Fox said it’s much more complicated than she made it seem.
“The WHO is relying on what seems to be some reports from countries that do contact tracing that suggest people who are never symptomatic during the portion of their COVID infection, they don’t seem to infect as many people. It’s not that they don’t infect anyone but they seem to not be as infectious,” he said.
First off, there are two categories of asymptomatic individuals. Ones that are asymptomatic the entire duration of having the coronavirus and those who are initially asymptomatic and then develop symptoms.
We are currently talking about those who are asymptomatic through it all.
But contact tracing and the reliability of testing in people who don’t have symptoms is very challenging and there is a lot more that goes into it.
“People who are asymptomatic and if they never show symptoms it’s hard to say, oh my roommate infected me,” he said. “The issues with testing, the challenge of contact tracing make it really hard to even make a firm conclusion about how contagious they are.”
So although there are some studies out there showing asymptomatic individuals are less contagious, Dr. Fox said it’s also very hard to make a solid conclusion just based on the fact that contact tracing is even harder when someone doesn’t show any symptoms.