VALPARAISO — Porter County is requiring all visitors and employees in county government buildings to wear a face mask for at least the next two weeks to minimize the potential spread of COVID-19.
The revived mask mandate announced Wednesday comes after Porter County was classified as "orange" by the Indiana Department of Health based on the county's increasing COVID-19 infection rate and its COVID-19 testing positivity rate.
The orange designation means Porter County is approaching uncontrolled spread of the coronavirus and additional prevention measures may be needed if the county reaches the state's highest possible "red" designation.
Porter County previously was the sole "yellow" county in the state. Its change to orange means all of Northwest Indiana, including Lake and LaPorte counties, now are at the orange COVID-19 advisory level.
Lake County has likewise implemented a mask mandate in county government buildings. Most school corporations across Northwest Indiana also require all students, teachers, staff and visitors to wear face masks while indoors.
Businesses and other public places, however, largely remain free to set their own COVID-19 face mask policies for the protection of their employees and customers.
Altogether, 66 of Indiana's 92 counties are classified as orange, 25 are red, and just one (Tippecanoe County) is yellow, according to the Indiana Department of Health.
No counties have the best-possible "blue" designation.
Despite the state's nearly entirely orange and red map, there are signs the recent surge of COVID-19 cases linked to the delta variant may have peaked in Indiana and is heading downward.
State data show 3,936 positive COVID-19 cases were recorded Tuesday in Indiana. That was a 16.2% drop from the 4,698 new infections tallied one week earlier.
Similarly, the number of Hoosiers hospitalized due to COVID-19 Tuesday was 2,436, a decrease of 91 patients compared to last week, records show.
At the same time, Hoosier deaths due to COVID-19 continue to add up, with 72 newly reported COVID-19 deaths that occurred between Aug. 9 and Sept. 21 added to the state's tally on Wednesday.
The coronavirus has now killed 15,315 Hoosiers in the past 18 months when both confirmed and suspected COVID-19 deaths are counted.
Hoosiers can protect themselves from COVID-19 infection, hospitalization and death by getting the free COVID-19 vaccine that's available without an appointment at 1,098 sites across the state, including most retail pharmacies, health clinics and hospitals.
A full list of Indiana COVID-19 vaccine sites is available online at ourshot.in.gov.