Southern Indiana

Southern Indiana coronavirus levels have dropped again after spiking in late summer.

Floyd and Clark counties are back in the yellow category on Indiana’s color-coded COVID-19 map.

The state uses four categories to measure coronavirus rates — yellow is the second-lowest. Both counties were previously in the orange category for about two months, which indicates high community transmission of the virus.

Clark and Floyd counties’ moving average for new daily cases reached nearly 160 at the end of August. It’s now down to 64.

Clark County Health Officer Dr. Eric Yazel said vaccination rates are one of the reasons behind the drop.

“We’re seeing some shot uptake with the boosters and opening it up to the younger age range,” he said. “Some of the people who’ve been mandated to get the vaccine are showing up, too, so as we keep increasing our vaccinated percentage, hopefully our numbers will keep heading in the right direction.”

The new status has caused some changes in local school districts’ masking policies. New Albany Floyd County Schools and Greater Clark County Schools, the largest districts in the area, adopted a policy in August that requires masking for students and staff if Floyd County is in the orange or red categories.

Students and vaccinated staff no longer have to wear masks unless they are on the bus. Masking is still required for unvaccinated employees and visitors.

But NAFCS superintendent Brad Snyder said the relaxed policy is a “double-edged sword.” In September, Gov. Eric Holcomb said students and staff who come in close contact with positive COVID-19 cases in school settings no longer have to quarantine if their schools require masks.

Without masks, administrators have to go back to an often “laborious” contact tracing process.

“If you’re not affected, you want the freedom to have no mask,” Snyder said. “But if your son or daughter is missing 10 days of school, you’re upset. So it’s difficult, and there are arguments made both ways.”

Floyd County Health Officer Dr. Tom Harris is encouraging more people to get vaccinated to keep numbers low. Vaccination rates for people between 20 and 40 years old are lagging behind other age groups in the county. Overall, Floyd County has the sixth-highest vaccination rate out of Indiana’s 92 counties.

Harris said the county will host its first clinic to vaccinate children as young as five next week.

“We don’t really know how many parents are going to bring the kids in to get shots, though, out of that age group, because the 20 to 40 demographic that we’re not doing well in vaccinating is likely to be the parents of the 5 to 11-year-olds that can now get the shot,” he said.

John Boyle is a reporter and editor at WFPL news focused on Southern Indiana. He is a corps member with Report For America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.