Montgomery County has seen more than 200 new cases of COVID-19 in the last two weeks, state data show, as public health officials encourage residents to do their part to slow the spread.

The county reported 26 new cases as of midnight Thursday, the fourth-straight day of double-digit increases this week.

More than 800 Montgomery County residents have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since March and 22 people have died, according to the Montgomery County Health Department.

As cases spike, the department is urging people to wear masks and cooperate with isolations and quarantines, which experts say is key to controlling the coronavirus. Some of the recent cases have been linked to congregate living or social events such as weddings, funerals and dinner parties.

Officials discouraged even small gatherings with people you don’t regularly socialize with and recommend creating “social bubbles” of friends and family to reduce transmission of the virus.

“We all have a personal stake in the responsibility to slow the spread,” the department said in a Facebook post.

Montgomery County is currently averaging 310 weekly cases per 100,000 residents and has a 10.03% seven-day positivity rate, according to the Indiana State Department of Health.

In neighboring Fountain County, a three-week period of additional measures to combat the virus takes effect Monday.

The county reported 12 new cases as of midnight Thursday. Close to 460 residents have been diagnosed with the virus since the pandemic began, resulting in four deaths.

Under the new guidelines set by the Fountain and Warren County Health Department, social gatherings will be limited to less than 25 people and restaurants and bars will be asked to operate at half-capacity.

In addition, businesses are being encouraged to require masking, enforce social distancing and screen employees and customers for the virus.

The department later added it would not require additional mask enforcement beyond the state’s current order, which remains in effect through at least Nov. 14.

“Enforcement will be a challenge on many levels,” Fountain and Warren county health officer Dr. Shawn Sharma said about the guidelines. He encouraged residents to call the health department to report blatant violations of reasonable COVID-19 precautions.

“We are tracking those and we are responding to them and reaching out to other businesses and organizations to make sure that they have the resources and the education that they need to make the right choices,” Sharma added.

The bi-county health department began charting an increase in test requests and positive cases in early October. Nearly 300 new COVID-19 cases have been reported in Fountain County in the past month, state data show. The number of daily tests peaked at 160 on Oct. 29.

Officials discussed recommending additional protective measures, but there was no universal agreement on the next steps, Sharma said.

“There was encouragement to depend on individual responsibility of the public rather than to provide additional guidance from the health department,” he said. “I think that the last month has shown that that is not successful, and it resulted in the development of this call to action and campaign to really try to rally the public, business owners and otherwise to take a leading role in this response.”

The department has used an email listserv and social media to promote the guidelines and plans a yard sign campaign.

“I know everybody’s having some pandemic fatigue, but our limited staff at the health department has been working on this, it feels like, around the clock since around early March,” Sharma said, “and so I know everybody else is tired, but the staff of the Fountain & Warren County Health Department is not going to give up in our efforts to protect our community and we ask others to help us in that response.”
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